Cinema in Iran has its origins in the foibles of court entertainment in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In 1900, the Qâjâr king, Mozaffar-od-Din Shah, went to France for a state visit. While there, he became fascinated with the camera and what it could do. He ordered his photographer, Mirzâ Ebrâhim ‘Akkâsbâshi, to buy a cinematograph. Later, using the newly acquired equipment, Mirzâ Ebrâhim documented the presence of Mozaffar-od-Din Shah at a ceremony in Belgium. This documentary is the first film made by an Iranian. Mirzâ Ebrâhim brought his camera equipment back to Iran, and the king set up a demonstration for the court. The king also had a movie made of court eunuchs playing with each other in the palace courtyard. Film had become a part of court entertainment, and the various films made by Mirzâ Ebrâhim probably represent the first ethnographic footage taken in the history of Iranian film. Films made during the Qâjâr period may be divided into three categories: documentation of court ceremonies, social-cultural scenes around the capital, and scripted action films. Royal and religious ceremonies were often filmed, and the films would later be shown at weddings of members of the elite, at family gatherings, or at court parties. Also, a number of documentaries were produced in this period. In 1905, Mirzâ Ebrâhim Khan Sahhâfbâshi, an antique dealer, was the first private entrepreneur to import a film projector to Iran. He converted the backyard of his shop into an open-air theater and began public screening of films in Tehran. He showed a mostly upper class audience silent movies imported to Iran via Russia. The fate of this courageous venture was thrown into controversy when rumors circulated claiming that the films shown there included unveiled female characters. This led to condemnation by the religious leader Â yatollâh Fazlollah Nuri, who demanded the closure of the theater. This, along with other political problems, resulted in the closure of Sahhâfbâshi’s theater, confi scation of his financial assets, and his exile to India in 1907. Drama and Cinema 95 Under the patronage of Mohammad-‘Ali Shah, a Russian-born court photographer, Mahdi Rusi Khân, became a cinema manager and replaced Sahhâfbâshi as a presenter of films for elite viewers in Tehran. In 1909, Rusi Khân made a film of the Moharram mourning processions, but it was only shown in Russia. With the restoration of the Constitution and the exile of Mohammad-‘Ali Shah, Rusi Khân fell out of favor and his films were confi scated. Though the new theater he had opened on the second fl oor of a printing shop in Lâlehzâr Avenue remained open for a while, he decided to leave Iran for Paris in 1911 . By 1912, a number of movie theaters had been built, mostly by foreignborn Iranians, especially from Russia. The only person who was able to keep his theater open for more than a decade was an Armenian businessman by the name of Ardashir Khân Bâtmângariân. His theater, known as Sinemâ Jadid (“New Cinema”), opened in 1913 in collaboration with a French company. A unique contributor to the evolution of cinema in Iran was an elderly French woman by the name of Mme Bernadotte. She owned a bookstore in Tehran and sometimes showed newsreels and war documentaries in a small projection room to her predominantly French-speaking customers. It is reported that some of these films contributed to the spirit of nationalism at the time and generated a stir amongst the Iranian public. Some people, however, accused her of witchcraft, claiming that she called forth Satan on the screen—accusations which resulted in the closure of her “little cinema.” Another contribution to the development of film culture was the Iranian-British Cultural Center, which in the 1920s screened documentaries to a select group of Iranians. In the 1920s and 1930s, more movie houses were established. In 1925, ‘Ali Vakili was able to build the largest movie theater at the time in the Grand Hotel on Lâlehzâr Avenue and later published the first magazine on show business in Iran. At the beginning of Rezâ Shah’s rule, there were 8 theaters in Tehran. By the early 1930s, there were 15 theaters in Tehran and 11 in other provinces. The existence of such an infrastructure encouraged people to attend movie theaters. Movies made during this period included some documentaries by Khân Bâbâ Khân Mo‘tazedi, who had previously worked with a film studio in France. The first Iranian-made feature films also began to appear. The main pioneer in this effort was an Armenian immigrant, Hovhannes Ohanian (Âvânes Uhâniân), who established an acting school in Iran in 1930. With actors from this school and Mo‘tazedi as his cameraman, he made a popular slapstick comedy, Âbi o Râbi (“Abi and Rabi”) that same year. This was followed in 1932 by Hâji Âqâ âktor-e sinemâ (“Haji Aqa, Movie Actor”)—the story of a woman and her fi ancé who wanted to become film actors but had to defuse the opposition of her religiously-minded father to their plan. The script was written by one of the most prominent Iranian authors of the time, Sa‘id Nafi si, and the film employed an Armenian woman, Asia Ghostantin, as the actress. The film was meant to demonstrate the desirability of the new media through the use of humor. This blend of comedy and melodrama would remain a popular genre of Iranian film into the 1970s. One of Ohanian’s students, Ebrâhim Morâdi, established his own studio and released a film in 1934 called Bu‘l-hawas (“The Lustful Man”). This film contrasted the simple and natural life in rural areas with the unexpected and often uncomfortable aspects of city life—another durable theme in Iranian cinema. This was also the last Iranian feature production done within Iran’s borders until the end of the World War II. Morâdi’s efforts were very important for the new industry in Iran. He also employed the first two Iranian Muslim women to work as actresses, namely Qodsi Partovi and Âsieh. The first Persian-language movie with sound, Dokhtar-e Lor (“The Lor Girl”), was made in Bombay in 1933 by ‘Abd-ol-Hosayn Sepantâ, a Zoroastrian poet and writer from Isfahan. Sepântâ wrote the script for the film and also played the role of the character Ja‘far in this movie. “The Lor Girl” was such a success that it landed Sepantâ an offer from the Iranian government to produce films about the glory of the country’s past and the desirability of a modern lifestyle, but this did not work out exactly as intended. In 1935 the Ministry of Education commissioned Sepantâ to make a film about the life of the poet Abo‘l-Qâsem Ferdowsi, but parts of his film Ferdowsi were rejected and had to be redone because the shah did not like the film’s negative portrayal of Sultan Mahmud. Sepantâ continued to produce movies inspired by classical Persian literature and Iranian history, but mostly outside the country and without government support. Sepantâ’s last film Layli o Majnun, based on the classical love story of Layli and Majnun, appeared in 1937. With their use of Persian dialog accompanied by songs, music, and dance, Sepantâ’s films were quite popular, but a combination of political, financial , and bureaucratic diffi culties forced him to leave the movie industry.