A Look at the Campaign Movies
The election films of presidential candidates have become a prevalent phenomenon that is increasingly gaining importance and value. These films can determine an election’s results by swaying people to vote for a particular candidate. This has led to the emergence of a new trend; you can see the first part of a film that is aired on television on the Internet before the filming actually ends.
The election films of the two reformist candidates were made by two famous filmmakers: the election films of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi were made respectively by Majid Majidi and Behrooz Afkhami. But these two films display two varying formal structures and even contrasting contents, a fact that seems to be the obvious product of the filmmakers’ political kinship with their respective candidates.
Mousavi’s election film may be shocking on its first viewing. There is no word about reforms, civil society, or Khatami, who is Mousavi’s main supporter. Instead, the film is filled with statements about “values,” “the Imam,” “the Supreme Leader,” and some other similar concepts that have specific resonances. Nonetheless, Majidi’s film creates problems for its audience by its evasion to make a clear stance about whom it is addressing. This film does not seem to strike a chord with the hard-liners and it also dismays the young audiences who support the reforms. One may presume that Majidi has made a film that, according to his beliefs, does not present a fiery and impassioned candidate but someone who still lives in the atmosphere of the revolution’s early years and clings to its values. A number of times, Khomeini’s image appears on the screen and we even hear his voice, but Khatami’s share is only a scene that shows him making a speech. Even Zahra Rahnavard does not have any part in this film. Nor do we see any images of Tehran’s modern youths, some of whom have become Mousavi’s staunch supporters. There is no mention of any writer, literary figure, or intellectual in the film and it only alludes to Ahmad Azizi who is introduced as “the poet of the Prophet’s family.” We see scenes in which Mousavi meets with the maraje-e taghlid (the Ayatollahs who are sources of emulation) one by one and this lasts a few minutes. The criticism of current conditions is confined to a few slogans and the words of a woman who is riding on a bus and is, for no obvious reason, quite excited.
We can sum up the film’s essence in a sentence that this candidate utters: “Let us go back to the value-based atmosphere of the revolution’s early years.” The result of all this is a film in which images have little significance as the archival pictures of the revolution and the Imam and the war try to remind the audience of these “values.” The only effective part of the film is the singing of “Ey Iran” by some people and the matching of their voice with the original song. This segment can influence all audiences with any outlook.
Karoubi’s election film moves exactly in the opposite direction and is, in fact, more intelligent. Behrooz Afkhami, who himself has been a reformist member of Parliament and has directed some well-structured films, perhaps knows his audiences better: if votes are cast for Karoubi, they will be for “change” and not for taking refuge in “value,” “revolution,” “the Supreme Leader,” and similar notions. Based on this clear shared principle of the candidate and the filmmaker, the film is populated with transparent critiques and transgression against the red tapes such as “compulsory hijab,” “relations with the United States,” and “the removal of censorship on films and books.” Of course, this article does not intend to focus on Karoubi’s views because we only consider these films from one angle: the way they address their audiences. Within this framework, Afkhami’s film is much more successful than Majidi’s because it knows its audiences and relates to them. It is lucid and straightforward—something that the audiences demand from this candidate—and speaks directly with viewers. The narrator at the end of the film asks, “Are you asking again why Karoubi wants to become the President? You have exhausted me!” Although the narrator’s address as a young person to the audience is a bit tiring at first, it works effectively within the film’s overall structure. The film also heightens its impact by utilizing some public personalities who have surrounded Karoubi. It clearly mentions the names of Abdolkarim Soroush, Babak Ahmadi and some journalist supporters, and this perhaps happens for the first time. This is in contrast to Majidi’s film which, instead of making use of a well-known writer like Mahmoud Dolatabadi who supports Mousavi, turns to Azizi.
We can conclude that Majidi’s film is conservative and Afkhami’s film audacious and daring. For this reason, we do not hear any salavat (greeting to God, the Prophet and his descendants) in Afkhami’s film; instead, what we hear is a cheering full of whistling and clapping that welcome Karoubi.
The film of Javad Shamghadry for Ahmadinezhad from the opposing faction is technically weaker than the films of Majidi and Afkhami, but, unlike Majidi’s film, it has a clear understanding of its audience. The filmmaker has no problem in relating to the candidate and his slogans and knows for whom the film is made: the people from the lowest levels of society who are illiterate or can barely read. From the beginning, Ahmadinezhad wants the votes of this group, and any address to them should be based on two principles. The first principle has to do with emphasis on their financial situation and a promise to solve their problems. The second principle concentrates on Ahmadinezhad as one of these people (a woman from Bandar Abbass says, “He is down-to-earth like us.” The film revolves precisely around these two goals and progresses to the end in the same vein. Ironically enough, it is not Majidi but Javad Shamghadry who is famous as a filmmaker who believes in “values,” and yet Shamghadry’s film does not make much of the revolution in the eras of Khomeini and the current Supreme Leader. The film consciously centers on one person, Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad, a man who is “alone and unassisted” and wants to redress the injustice done to the poor. For this reason, a large segment of the film shows the affliction and poverty of people. These people are partly those who have come to own their home and means of living by Ahmadinezhad’s help.