National Cinema, or The Labyrinth of Feudal
by Pajang Sadegh Vaziri
Colleagues and fellow filmmakers:
you have probably seen the name
ďIranĒ used by certain governmental and
private organizations. The use of this name means that the activities of these
organizations are related to the whole Iranian
society, and in our cinema also, the term
ďIranian cinemaĒ has been used profusely,
but under this weighty name, is it really
Iranian cinema that is addressed?
As far as I know, the cinema of any country is made
up of 1. fiction film or feature film, 2.
Documentary film, 3. animation, 4. short
films, where each have their own system of
production and distribution.
With this description, I will research
the state of Iranian cinema.
Since after the Revolution to this date, from about
20 years ago, the government has dedicated a
part of itís national budget to help Iranian
cinema, and the governmental executives have
spent it in this manner.
The amount of this budget has never
But in political and executive records
of the cinema branch of the Ministry of
Culture, itís been once reflected, that by
production and distribution, a film with the
official rate of exchange costs about $45,000.
Based on this minimum estimate, the
government gives special aids of an average of
$10,000 to producers.
With the production of 70 films per
year, the total of this aid reaches $620,000
to $2,500,000 annually.
But when we search for Iranian cinema in the records
of the Ministry of Culture which is the
distributor of this budget, we notice that it
has been only spent on fiction film.
Now lets see what has been the result
of spending the entire cinema budget in only
one branch of cinema.
When we follow the route of these aids, we see that
itís been given in the form of subsidized
costs for raw materials for sound and film,
production equipment and laboratory.
It results in a feature film, owned by
The distribution of this money to
feature films has been so generous, that even
completely commercial films that use action
scripts, high paying actors, and so on, still
take advantage of this subsidy.
Other than these subsidies, special
loans are also given only to this branch of
the other hand, Iran has banned the exhibition
of foreign films to support the local cinema,
and has left the internal market in the hands
of feature film producers without external
This market has also been devoid of
internal competition from documentary and
animation or short films.
The lack of support from Ministry of
Culture and State Television for these
branches, has resulted in their halted
If they have produced anything, these
same policies have halted the creation of
a suitable market by the Ministry of
Culture, State television, or the video
market. So the internal market has been in the absolute reign of
On the other hand, in feature films, large groups
such as the director, screenwriter,
cinematographer, editor, production designer,
composer, production managers and assistants,
all get paid by the producer.
This work force does not get any work
compensation or benefits, such as health or
retirement benefits, and also does not receive
any copyright benefits.
Giving subsidies and other government
help, no doubt helps the production of feature
films, and it creates work, but since the cost
of the finished film is lowered, the fees
received by the work force remains low, and
with inflation and with the lack of benefits
their situation worsens over time.
In the meanwhile the producers benefits
from films produced in previous years, rises.
In a situation that the producers advantages are
increased, and the production personnelís
benefits diminish, people in production turn
to producing, and that is why in feature films
we see many double credits, such as
cinematographer/producer, and so on.
The negative outcome of this trend also
penetrates trade union activities.
Production personnel who are
represented in professional organizations,
because of their roles as producers,
consciously or unconsciously block the rights
of trade activities in Iranian cinema.
(Look at the unfortunate situation of
trade unions in the House of Cinema.)
With this explanation, we can say that when there is
talk of Iranian cinema, it means feature
films, and this is the cinema that represents
Fiction film is split from within,
because in it the increase in profit and the
interest of the production personnel are not
But since in the last 20 years it has
benefited from all the advantages given to
Some of its representatives are keenly
interested in preserving this dominion, and
they resist all efforts to break it.
They are one of the barriers to the
expansion of Iranian cinema.
Ministry of Culture has a central role in this
situation where fiction films have taken
control of all the assets.
The background of this situation goes
back to the early days of the revolution,
where policymakers had to quickly respond to
the needs of film audiences.
They changed the shape of this cinema
within the structures of the traditional film
However the policymakers of that time
were sensitive to other arenas as well, and
they started the Center for Documentary
Cinema, and Center for Young Cinema. Though from the selection of the names itís clear that they
didnít have a clear definition from of the
popular side of cinema, but they did dedicate
certain governmental budgets to other branches
of Iranian cinema.
Unfortunately, this trend was not
continued by future policymakers, and other
than Center for Young Cinema which continues
its activities, but fluctuates between
supporting young filmmakers and producing
commercially, the Center for Documentary
Cinema closed down after a period of producing
feature length films.
These two centers failed to give a
solid definition to their activities in
Iranian cinema, and animation films,
continuously shut out of policymakerís
attention, is looking for its place.
Without looking at the role of State television, itís not
possible to assess the negative or position
involvement of government in Iranian cinema.
By placing State Television next to
Ministry of Culture, for the first time a
complete picture is developed, which is both
comic and tragic.
In this outlook, when Ministry of
Culture closes down foreign film imports to
nurture Iranian cinema, State television as
the sole national broadcaster, tirelessly
programs the most action-oriented foreign
films for its thirsty audience in such a way
that they forget all about their national
society does not see its own reflection or
treasures of its own culture in this
Children with open mouths and wide
eyes, watch international football players and
Unfortunately, when they initiated the Steering Board of
Expansion of Iranian Cinema, the Cinema branch
of Ministry of Culture as the policy maker of
Iranian cinema, did not even create a
perfunctory seat for State television, because
the governing thought there did not concern
itself with cinema.
In the same way thereís been no seats
allocated to documentary or animation
filmmakers, and the Steering Board remained
limited to a few insiders of feature film
industry, who are working in the interest of
The truth is that inside Iranian cinema a kind of feudal
system reigns, which can only imagine its own
strength in weakening other tribes, and cannot
imagine a unified growth.
Now after 100 years of history of cinema in Iran, we have
to see how a limited, but active presence of
government and the presence of different
professional groups from the four branches of
cinema, can create a healthy structure for
organizing the countryís cinema sector as a
how we can arrive at a healthy growth in the
economics, culture and art of cinema, as a
Ebrahim Mokhtari, August, 2000
Take a look at the notebook of policies
of Cinema in Islamic Republic of Iran, page
12, March, 1997.
This year the cost of laboratory and
equipment is not subsidized.
This year Cinema trade union members
will receive health insurance.