Film Censorship: Sharp Scissors in Blind Hands

Both film exhibition and film production in Iran have always been closely controlled by the government. Objections against films have been voiced by religious authorities, professional groups, and, ironically, film distributors as well.

In the pre-revolutionary period, the censorship codes were designed to encourage political conformity, and to curb any real or perceived subversive messages. Domestic films were subject to a multi-step review process to ensure their compliance with the codes and foreign films were kept in check by cutting their objectionable scenes or by changing their narratives while being dubbed. No criticism of the royal family, Islam, the Constitution, and the armed forces was allowed. Thus, forced to resort to symbolic communication, Iranian film makers in the early 1970's started a unique movement marked by a combination of a keen sense of political awareness with sophisticate cinematic craftsmanship.

In an attempt to create an "Islamic cinema", free of "the imposed western values," the current government has adopted even harsher measures of control over the film industry. Depiction of physical attraction is banned; women characters are required to cover their hair and wear large outer garments to hide their female shape. Recent restrictive codes have banned close-ups of women, application of make-up, and scenes of women running that accentuate their body. Similarly, male characters are not allowed to wear neckties. All films are otherwise subject to control at every stage of production, and a harsh rating system imposed by the government effectively determines the box-office prospects of each film. Furthermore, the government holds a monopoly over film stock and film making equipment, which further tightens its grip over film production. Several Iranian films by major filmmakers have been either totally banned or have some of their scenes altered. when the wholesale removal of a scene is not possible, portions of the actual film frames are manually blacked out.

Jamsheed Akrami
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