At the End of a Century

The endemic problems of Iranian cinema must be viewed in the context of the age-old conflict between the dominant traditional values and the emerging modern concepts of freedom and rationality, between absolutist dogmas and relativist tendencies. It is in this context that political, cultural, and religious despotism has thrived. In a sense, the ban against painting and imagery, which is not an exclusive Islamic edict, must also be analyzed in the same context which has placed Iranian cinema in a formidable bind.

In the last hundred years, however, the "absolutist traditionalism" in Iran has reluctantly allowed the fitful growth of photographic and cinematic arts. Indeed, the ruling traditionalists have not only accepted cinema as a legitimate form of art but have in the last decade or so allowed, in fact encouraged, the appearance of Iranian films in international film festivals. They have finally legitimized "image", particularly the image of their own triumphs. But, they approve of and promote, images that cover rather than reveal, distort rather than dissect. Thus, on the hundredth anniversary of the birth of cinema, the "absolutist" state has succeeded in creating one of the most elaborate and comprehensive systems of governmental control, supervision and censorship for the film industry ever designed by man. But, it is not only the state that imposes the endless constraints on film making. Street throngs of zealots and religious fanatics may have the final word in determining the fate of any filmmaker's work. It is, therefore, no wonder that when the centennial of cinema is being celebrated around the globe, and the film archives are everywhere explored to arouse national pride, the remaining copies of pre-revolutionary Iranian films, regardless of their merit, are deliberately abandoned to rot in open spaces or in obscure and stifling storage houses.

Bahram Beyza'i
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