Kind of Cinema Is This?
In Austria’s Wienale Festival after the
screenings of Under the Olive Trees, The
Abadanis and Zinat, a discussion was held with
the presence of Werner Herzog, Kianoush Ayari,
Zaven Ghoukasian and myself.
Being fond of the Iranian cinema, Herzog who
also directed the panel, threw his first
question as: “What kind of cinema is
this?” “How do you explain this
More so than others I was asked to
I really wanted to frankly say I didn’t know
but somehow managed to respond while wishing
that I had remained with an ‘I don’t know
Ghoukasian and Ayari each also gave their own
explanations in which I didn’t find any
answers to the question.
Since then however, because of the
awards that one of these filmmakers sometimes
received in a reputable or non-reputable
festival or an undeserving comment to a
director or an occasional tribute the question
would rise in my mind again and distract me in
vain for some time.
The dwelling went on until just recently when
the issue came up again and the odd question
as to what kind of cinema this is.
Why don’t its films have narratives
Why doesn’t it have characterization
or famous actors like in the past? And it seems that any passers-by have been cast to act.
Why is it not welcomed that much and in
brief, what is this cinema?
Fortunately, I felt some answers were coming to
began with the sentence that this cinema is
not one with script-writers in closed rooms to
tie and untie the knots in struggles to
develop dialogues among the characters and
create a screenplay at last to dictate to the
director how to lead the story forward.
It seems as though this cinema refuses to be
employed by the story and does not accept
Apparently, a cinema that does not subscribe to
the power of narrative is an anti-story
cinema in essence though, only separates
itself from the conventional form of story
It seeks a line of execution that
allows the filmmaker, the so-called actors,
places and real issues and all the elements in
and behind the scene to earn their position in
In this cinema many a time a scene in
the story through the work of the director and
actors explodes from within and evolves into
not only a part but also often the whole
screenplay or the film in its entirety (Salam
For these reasons the director in this
cinema does not have an iron breakdown or
lacks one at all.
The imaginary line breaks.
He does not fear of any unpredicted events on
the scene, rather he welcomes them.
At times he seems confused and unable
It is a cinema to which unlike the
director’s wish all kinds of people from all
walks of life find their way in and the
director uses these primarily obtrusive people
towards the development of the film.
It is a cinema in which faults and
shortcomings are not obscured but penetrated
into and employed for the piece (Close-up).
In one word according to the
professional directors of this cinema the
directors are amateur (my apologies).
This is exactly true.
They are absolutely right. That’s why
the directors of this cinema don’t have the
classic director’s chair.
The director’s chair is symbolic of
the power and authority of the professional
filmmaker over all elements in and behind the
a mighty director does not even find his
presence so necessary on the scene after
breakdown because with full power he dictates
how his first and last shots should be taken.
That authority, however, stops
spontaneity of the work.
That is why about two decades ago the
director in the Iranian new cinema smashed to
ground the director’s chair and broke down
the traditional authority.
In fact the director in our new cinema
is a self-determined professional amateur,
for, only through this path he reaches the
style and structure he is after. He constantly exits his professional mold to direct in an
His professional experiment before
anything aims to eliminate his traditional
power and the screenplay’s self-interest and
finally the actor’s traditional professional
this cinema the freedom of action creates
context, structure and aesthetic.
This freedom, however, is not anarchist
but it seeks to arrive at new meanings, other
people and expansion of the real world
(followed by diversity of the world of
cinematography) which is what the new Iranian
cinema has drawn.
As soon as we take away the reciprocal and
dynamic relationships between the makers of
this cinema, the style and structure of its
Take a look at the movies that are made
parallel to this kind of cinema but lack this
Cliché, sex and action that are frequented in
every one of the commercial movies are not the
subjects of this cinema.
This cinema seeks to look everywhere
and talk about what others fail to see.
Thus, willingly or not it supercedes
the elements of commercial cinema without
antagonizing the monetary aspects of it. The
subjects in this cinema are all contemporary,
real and social.
If a subject is not contemporary it
certainly takes place in such society.
This cinema is neutral towards its most
positive characters; therefore, it is not
protagonist and can’t be propagandist.
The foundation (outlook) of this cinema
is critical yet when it plunges into depths of
poverty and tragedy it comes out hopeful (The
Consequently, most of its films seemingly or not
have happy endings.
Although auditors and producers have an
influence in leading to happy endings but the
result is the filmmakers’ hopefulness.
Thus, happy endings not as extra loads,
are part of the structure and nature of the
This hope of course is not definite. It
is a fragile hope that in reaching the purpose
alternately makes warnings in the piece and
invites constant effort.
I suppose hopes of this nature are
characteristic of Iranian culture that existed
in Persian poetry and are now present in the
Iranian new cinema.
This cinema in form, content, meaning,
production and audit are liberal.
It does not speak of freedom.
It acts upon freedom and is created in
it and in the absence of open exchanges
between the producer, auditor, director and
actor it (probably) diminishes.
Interestingly, as much as this cinema needs
freedom to take shape, it becomes a carrier of
freedom after production because it changes
understanding of the context.
It takes a different look at life and
It rids the viewer from his previous
closed world and the perception that the world
is as he sees it.
This cinema was formed by not only a couple but
a group of filmmakers, not in a few years but
it is almost 20 years old.
It reaches its qualitative existence
not only in context but also in style and
structure. It has not been pre-meditated but it prevailed out of need.
These characteristics reveal that the
Iranian new cinema is a cultural movement.
It seems that it is the only artistry
responding to democracy, which is one of the
Iranian people’s national demands at the
present. It is a demand rooted in two historical revolutions of the
Constitutional in 1906 and the Islamic in
1979. I do not believe our music, literature; painting, etc. have
acquired such positions.
Without the cultural precedence, the
historical revolutions and the ancient
cinematic background that is now one hundred
years old, this cinema was unlikely to emerge.
I greet the Iranian new cinema and the 100th
anniversary of world cinema and by greetings
to Werner Herzog from afar I’d like him to
accept this very personal explanation of the
Iranian new cinema instead of my last brief in
Wienale hoping that he hears my mind’s inner
voice yet whispering: “I still don’t
really know what kind of cinema this is.”