Iranian National Cinema, or The Labyrinth of Feudal Relationships.  

Translated 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 been declared.  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 producer.  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 cinema.  On 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 competition.  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 development.  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 feature films.

 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 director/producer, screenwriter/producer, 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 Iran.   Fiction film is split from within, because in it the increase in profit and the interest of the production personnel are not connected.  But since in the last 20 years it has benefited from all the advantages given to Iranian cinema.  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 industry.  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 cinema.  This society does not see its own reflection or treasures of its own culture in this programming.  Children with open mouths and wide eyes, watch international football players and TV characters.

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 this branch.

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 whole.  And how we can arrive at a healthy growth in the economics, culture and art of cinema, as a national phenomenon.

Ebrahim Mokhtari, August, 2000  


1.  Take a look at the notebook of policies of Cinema in Islamic Republic of Iran, page 12, March, 1997.

2.  This year the cost of laboratory and equipment is not subsidized.

3.  This year Cinema trade union members will receive health insurance.  


 Copyright © Ebrahim Mokhtari. all rights reserved.