Cinematic Identity in Iran, Egypt and Turkey

The cinema of Iran, Egypt and Turkey while different in many ways share a number of common characteristics. This article is an attempt to review and compare these differences and similarities. According to the author, in all these countries introduction of cinema led to similar resistance mostly inspired by religious authorities. Yet, eventually in all three the film became a powerful cultural and social medium.

Film-makers in Turkey, where a secular system of government had been established in early 1920's and women had been franchised in 1934, enjoyed extensive freedom of action, albeit in a politically restrictive atmosphere. Although film production in Turkey reached its zenith in the 1970's, it has been in decline since 1980 as a result of the American management of the Turkish movie theaters and the flood of American films. The Turkish contemporary cinema clearly represents the efforts of a society in the midst of a struggle to break the fetters of a restrictive traditional culture. Cinema, as a western medium, entered closed societies in Turkey, Iran and Egypt with ancient civilizations and yet encumbered with despotic political systems and superstitious tradition-bound cultures. Native cinema in all these three countries clearly reflected continuing social evolution, although the cultural and historical disparities affected the development and quality of film-making in each society. The changes in the last two decades have contributed to the creation of a more purposeful art in all these countries. Two major factors stand out in this transformation: the spread of religious fundamentalism and the onslaught of wester, particularly American, films.

In the last three decades, the most important common characteristic of serious film-making in all these countries is its politicization on the one hand and its commitment to depicting social ills and cultural anomalies, on the other. There is, however, a clear and tragic difference between Iranian cinema and that of Turkey and Egypt. While Turkish and Egyptian film-makers had, in this period, taken on both political despotism and cultural constraints, Iranian film-makers as well as Iranian intellectuals heavily relied on traditional cultural norms in order to carry on their campaign against political repression. For this, not only Iranian intellectuals and film-makers but also the society at large paid a heavy price.

Hormuz Kay
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