Illegal Inside the Country
Iranian Cinema Under Ahmadinejad
Iran’s cinema has turned into a bitter story during Ahmadinejad’s government. This cinema, which had secured a strong standing for itself in the world during the last two decades, does not enjoy the same universal recognition and praise today. Iranian films produced under the supervision of, and in accordance with, the guidelines of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance of Ahmadinejad’s administration, are not looked upon as worthy by those having a hand in world cinema. Instead, they welcome Iran’s underground cinema, which is often produced illegally inside the country.
For example, in a break with the past, the Cannes Festival did not accept any film from Iran during the first two years of Ahmadinejad’s regime. Last year this Festival accepted only one Iranian film, which did not have a production permit and was submitted from Iran in an informal manner (this movie still does not have a screening permit in Iran). The same thing happened again this year when the only film accepted from Iran was one that was produced illegally. Naturally, its screening caused a strong objection from Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. This film was directed by Bahman Ghobadi and its screenplay was written in collaboration with Roxana Saberi, an Iranian-American journalist recently released after being accused of espionage and incarcerated for four months in Iran. This film was screened as the opening film in the section “A Certain Outlook (Un Certain Regard)” at the Cannes Festival.
But there is more to this story: The former Chief Editor of Keyhan newspaper, now in charge of Ahmadinejad’s Ministry of Guidance, started his work by advocating change in Iran’s cinema through the incorporation of “Islamic and revolutionary” themes. The Ministry’s policies during this administration remind us of the harsh regulations adopted in the first years of the revolution when art was regarded as ideological and to be used only at the service of the revolution and Islam. The stature of Iran’s independent cinema became weaker every day during the last four years and the work of those film makers with no affiliation with the government became more constrained. Some of the most accredited film makers have recently declared that Ahmadinejad’s government is “anti-cinema”.
But this government is not anti-cinema. On the contrary, it believes in cinema–one that is under its own control and guidance and is at the service of its ideological agenda. It is interesting to note that the ideal movie for this government, the “Outcasts (Ekhrajiha)”, demeans the art of cinema. After the Secretary of Culture and Islamic Guidance called it an “exemplary” movie, it openly earned support from the government and its sequel was made shortly thereafter. The sequel to “Outcasts” has thus far generated 7 Billion Tomans ($7.2 Million) and has become the highest-grossing Iranian film of all time. With a weak structure, this film is not a professional production and is a waste of celluloid. On the other hand, it attracts the common viewers and brings their expectations of cinema down to the bare minimum. In this regard, cinema, like government controlled television, offers little in the way of intellect and knowledge, but can be used as a tool to deceive and fool people.
Four years of government opposition against the film industry has resulted in an increase in religious and revolutionary themes in films, a reduction in the activities of independent film makers and the rise of underground cinema in Iran.
Film makers prefer to use video cameras and make short movies without a permit from the Ministry of Guidance and send them informally to international festivals. People’s tastes and preferences have deteriorated, as indicated by the huge success of movies such as “Outcasts,” whose quality cannot be compared to the successful comedies made in the last two decades such as “Tenants.” Many film makers have no option but to turn to television and the production of TV series. The ultimate policy of this government is to reduce the production of the movie industry in future years, limit it to its own ideological subject matter, eliminate Iran’s presence in international festivals, and drive Iranian film makers toward television series that have mass appeal and ideological flavor.