The Cinema of the Islamic Republic of Iran

The most salient point about the Iranian cinema, clearly missing from most of the appraisals made in international film festivals and Western media, is that Iran's film industry is totally controlled by the Islamic government which exploits it as a political and propaganda tool in both internal and international arenas. Despite the application of harsh and restrictive criteria to control all stages of film production, whether a film will finally be given a permit can not be known until the very last phase of the censorship process, due to the ad hoc nature of regulations and the arbitrary method of their application. The dwindling number of movie houses--down from 420 prior to the revolution for a population of 30 million to around 250 for nearly 65 million people--is another indication of the contempt with which cinema is held by the current regime.

Apart from a handful of films with soft poetic themes, the films that have been produced in Iran glorify bloodshed and violence. Indeed, war and martyrdom, as the ultimate expression of self-sacrifice, have been the recurrent themes in these films. Other prevalent topics are depiction of the negative aspects of the Pahlavi period, denunciation of the Iranian opposition groups abroad, and vilification of the United States.

Those handful of Iranian films that have been acclaimed in international festivals or praised by foreign critics neither represent the Iranian film industry as a whole nor remotely depict life in contemporary Iranian society. On the contrary, they simply serve to promote the misconception that, at least in the area of film making, there is freedom of artistic expression in the Islamic republic of Iran. It would have been far more honorable for Iranian artists and filmmakers to have renounced their profession than to have lent their talents to the promotion of a transparent hoax.

Parviz Sayyad
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