Projects Radio TablEpisode 4 •Cinema during the Cold War

Conversation between Mohammad Tolouei1 and Hossein Mirbaba2Writer, Narrator, Sound Recorder and Editor: Farzan Asadian
Composer: Mani Jafarzadeh

The fourth episode of Tabl Radio is on cinema, which in two chapters presents discussions on the first encounter of Iranians with cinema, and discusses how cinema transformed into a cultural commodity in the 50s and 60s. The formation of a new trend in Iran’s cinematography in the 60s and its impact on popular cinema are also subjects of exploration. Moreover, a new interpretation of cinema as a reflection of the process of searching for urban people’s identity, who are alien with their environment is also presented. Finally, cinema’s fate in the first years after the Islamic Revolution and the role of the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults in recovering a part of modernist cinema in the 90s is also mentioned. These two chapters were recorded continuously.

Part 1 • 19 March 2021 — 42 mins.

One can argue that the arrival and establishment of cinema in Iran took place in two notable periods, with a break of several decades. One was with the arrival of Mozaffar al-Din Shah’s royal equipment, which did not lead to the formation of cinema in a public sense, and the other was the arrival of the Allies in Iran, who brought along light and portable filming equipment, whose screening of documentaries and newsreels about the war attracted the general public to the cinemas. Between the 1940s and 1950s, the main focus was on building cinemas, rather than making movies. Afterward, there was a tendency toward archaism, accompanied by a desire to show the glory of the past, which in the 1960s, led to numerous films adapted from old prose, like the Shahnameh.
During the Cold War, story-telling became important in the context of a dramatic relationship between audience and product. This was due to several factors, including portable equipment, cinematographers and cameramen who had been educated abroad, and the existence of movie halls and a potential urban audience. The top-down and development-oriented approach of the Pahlavi government prevented the audience from having a clear urban identity, which encouraged the production of Film-Farsi. The dramas created during this time portrayed the relationship between the upper and lower classes and the deterioration of tradition. At the same time, the resistance to modernization and attention to the common problems became manifest in the works of Leftists or artists who tried to promote the cinematographic expression, because of their economic profit; movies as a commodity.
In the early 1960s, following a conscious change of the relationship between the Shah and the nation, activities in the political atmosphere became more restricted, while the culture opened up, laying the groundwork for a cinema that was inspired by the West. Structural patterns were created for the establishment of cultural centers and the National Film Center of Iran, which alone and directly led to the formation of the cinematic grammar of Iranian New Wave cinema. The result of this movement was western imitations and a generous number of productions, most of which were censored at the time of release. This is where the confrontation between East and West during the Cold War comes into play.

Part 2 • 11 April 2021 — 42 mins.

The technical achievements of the movement, which was described in the previous part, is also present in all sorts of films, including Film-Farsi and popular cinema, which, in a way, enhanced the taste of the audience. This approach toward cinema promoted a critical encounter with the world and the society; from Sohrab Shahid-Sales’s minimalist and, at the same time, critical films (in the sense of criticizing art policies), to the films that criticized the formation of urban petit bourgeoisie. The ideology of the artists who followed this movement was to distance themselves from the ruling system they criticized, therefore, they have never aligned themselves with the West, which led to a Leftist interpretation of their work. In the meantime, more manifest Leftist movies were also produced, such as Beehive directed by Fereydun Gole. Other films of these years, such as Tight Spot, The Deer, and The Soil, portrayed protestors, who were in search of an identity and felt alienated from their environment, as a faded symbol.
The early years of the Revolution, on the other hand, led to the production of films that were neither right nor left, as the situation of cinema, similar to other artists, was not yet entirely clear in those years. This situation continued until the 1980s, except for certain productions of the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, and faint sparks of social documentary cinema. In the new Islamic state, those allowed to participate in the cinema were not aligned with the previous regime and defined themselves in opposition to imperialism, many of whom had Leftist tendencies.
One could argue that the post-revolution generation that was raised with Islamic ideology in institutions such as Hoze Honari were Islamic Leftist; such as Makhmalbaf, Majidi, and Ayari. Others cinematographers either pursued social cinema, like Rakhshan Banietemad, or naturalist cinema, like Kiarostami. With its pre-revolutionary employees and the management of Zarrin, who became the director after many trials and errors, the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults paved the way for people like Kiarostami and Naderi to carry out their work during these years. Eventually, after the 1990s, this trend completely changed with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

1 - Mohammad Tolouei - born in 1979, Rasht, is an author, playwriter, and poet.

2 - Hossein Mirbaba - born in 1980, Damavand, is a filmmaker and cinema and philosophy researcher.