On August 10, 1978, three men set fi re to the Rex Theater in the city of Abâdân, killing 300 people who were trapped inside. At the time, this was widely blamed on agents of the shah’s secret police (SAVAK). However, as the country went through the revolutionary turmoil, theater-burning became a common act by Islamic activists for protesting the shah’s regime. These incidents set the mood for the national attitude toward cinema in the years following the revolution. During the revolutionary period, close to 200 cinema houses were burned, demolished, or shut down by the revolutionaries who viewed them as “centers of corruption.” Immediately after the revolution, the entire film industry virtually came to a complete halt and cinematic development in the country was once again disturbed. The Islamic Revolution aimed to change dramatically the direction of Iranian culture as it had evolved during the Pahlavi period. The impact of a new theocratic government was highly visible on the film industry—an industry so closely tied to Western and modern cultural products. This put the whole industry in jeopardy. From when the Islamic republic was first established in 1979 until 1982, funds were cut off to the film industry and the government imposed a ban on the screening of new or existing films in the country. During 1980–1983, very few new films were produced in the country because filmmakers were unable to work in an environment of hostility, arbitrary rules, and no financial support. Filmmakers and entertainers were associated with the infl uences of western culture and corruption of society marked by the shah’s government. Many were threatened with legal charges, others were imprisoned, some even executed. With almost no production of new films in the country, the government began to encourage the screening of older films with more traditional values and imported foreign films with morally and politically acceptable themes, namely the struggle of oppressed peoples against colonialism and imperialism. Religious leaders’ initial reaction to cinema and theater was, and continues to remain as of this date, ambiguous: some wished to forbid them entirely, some to allow them with tight supervision, and some to use them to the advantage of the new state. Apparently the government saw the potential usefulness of cinema as a tool and, rather than banning the art form altogether, decided to use it as a means of promoting good Islamic values and helping usher in an Islamic culture. Thus, the Islamic Republic set about its mission of creating a strictly ideological cinema. Films, as the new religious leaders viewed them, were a good tool for educating people, especially about moral values. The government encouraged local production by discouraging and reducing the number of films imported. The reduction of municipal taxes on local films was also accompanied by generous long-term bank loans to producers and availability of foreign exchange funds for importing equipment and supplies. In 1982, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance was in charge of supervising the film industry. It issued a set of new regulations which would dictate the distribution of exhibition permits needed by films before they could be screened legally. The review involved examination of script, issuance of production and final exhibition permits, and the final assessment of the completed production. New guidelines disallowed portrayal of women without the hejâb (veil). They were to be portrayed as modest and chaste women, good mothers, and God-fearing Muslims. Films were to be devoid of sexual scenes, violence, any negative portrayal of Islam or the Islamic government, and any dialogue or interaction deemed “immoral.” A film could be refused a permit if it contained any of the following violations: insult to Islam or other recognized religions; insult to the Islamic Republic; encouragement of prostitution, drug addiction or other bad behavior; negation of equality whether based on color, language, or belief; and the depiction of violence or torture. In the early 1980s, films were made for propagandistic purposes, and nearly no Iranian citizen was interested in seeing them. Yet, as time passed, new rules took effect, and early purges of Iranian actors and actresses ended, the industry searched for a new identity and fi gured out how to transcend the new restrictions. Directors learned to illustrate controversial subjects by using safer and more symbolic methods. For instance, in one film, a man plays playing with a ring on his fi nger to hint at an intimate encounter. Therefore, despite a comparatively large number of restrictions put upon cinema, the end result of efforts by Iranian directors and producers was surprisingly positive. Since the focus of film producers was no longer profi t-making, Iran’s filmmaking improved considerably, gaining popular support and international acclaim. Despite efforts to completely “Islamize” cinema, the revolution sparked, in filmmakers, an innovative spirit which would begin to appear in the next few years as regulations and bans were slightly loosened and resources became available to the industry. Much of this innovation emerged out of the existing confusion and constraint. Because of this continued struggle, however, most films made during the early 1980s failed to refl ect the political and ideological climate of Iran. Due to general and ambiguous guidelines, filmmakers often censored themselves almost as much as the government did in an attempt to avoid entanglement. As the speed of movie production picked up after the revolution, two different kinds of cinema emerged alongside one another: The “Islamic cinema” advancing moral values and the “artist cinema” offering symbolic critique of social conditions under the Islamic government. The Iran-Iraq war (1980– 1988) became a major theme of Iranian cinema and spurred an entire film genre referred to as “Sacred Defense” cinema, which would be a prevalent theme for the next eight years. Fiction films produced during the war dealt with fi ghting and military operations or the war’s social and psychological effects. They refl ected the problems created by the war, and many featured stories of brave soldiers and martyrs. Unfortunately these early war-era films amounted to little more than propaganda and held little artistic or social value, failing to give a realistic representation of the issues of war. Sacred Defense cinema was as much a spiritual cinema as it was war cinema, meant to build national and ideological support for the government. Immediately after the revolution, women became the source of most tensions in film-making. In an attempt to move away from the moral corruption of Film Fârsi and to create a completely ideological cinema, women all but disappeared from the screen due to the numerous regulations placed on them. Women were treated either as “bad” or “good” based upon their chasteness, but for the most part they were ignored altogether. This initial tendency to ignore women as anything other than complacent housewives also resulted in ignoring many other social problems like domestic violence, prostitution, drug addiction, and infi delity. Many filmmakers avoided stories involving women; female characters were placed in the background as quiet, obedient housewives. They were mostly shown seated to avoid attention on their bodies which were deemed “provocative distractions.” In war movies, women were rarely depicted, unless as the mothers or wives of soldiers, and the chief messages were directed at portraying more of a feeling of virtuousness in the face of adversity. Furthermore, this policy toward women in the film made it very diffi – cult for cinema to be a realistic representation of Iranian society in regards to women and issues surrounding love relationships. Government regulations forbade filmmakers to portray any physical contact between a man and a woman, and women were expected to dress according to the full Islamic dress code at all times, which meant covering nearly every part of her body including hair. This, in particular, took away many realistic aspects of female life in cinema because even during scenes where a woman would normally be unveiled, such as when in bed, she had to remain covered in front of the camera. This insistence on veiling kept female actors from being completely natural in their roles and injected feelings of artifi ciality into the films. In films involving relationships between men and women, where a situation would normally call for physical interaction, for the purpose of comforting or aiding someone who is hurt, there could be none. Indeed, the regulations went so far as to advise that direct eye contact between a man and a woman should be avoided, as it might be construed as a look of desire. While most “Sacred Defense” films went unnoticed, several films in the artistic category dealing with the war received wide attention. The first was Bashu: gharibeh-ye kuchek (“Bashu: The Little Stranger”), directed by Bahrâm Bayzâi (1988) and produced by the Center for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults. This film not only examined the tensions created by war but also offered a sharp critique of a society in which a young boy loses both his family and his own “self.” The second was ‘Arusi-ye khubân (“Marriage of the Blessed”), written and directed by Mohsen Makhmalbâf and produced by the Institute for the Cinematographic Affairs and Jânbâzân Foundation in 1988. This film also depicted the agonies of a war veteran who sees his “revolutionary society” deviating from the Islamic ideals for which he fought. Finally, in the unreleased Josteju (“The Search,” 1981) Amir Nâderi focused on the authorities’ attitude toward soldiers missing-in-action at the beginning of the war. The end of the war with Iraq and the death of Âyatollâh Khomeini marked the end of Iran’s revolutionary period and a new phase of “reconstruction” began. The new government, headed by President ‘Ali-Akbar Rafsanjâni, felt that ideological values had been adequately infused and wanted to boost morale by allowing more room for cultural discussion. It relaxed restrictions on cultural products and allowed the screening of some previously banned films. Also, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance introduced a new rating system which increased the revenue received by producers by allowing them to screen highly rated films in more upscale theaters. As a result, the quality and quantity of films produced in Iran due to measures taken by the government increased. But these policies were opposed by conservative clerics and their followers. The press, cinema, and music industry became arenas where the conservative, liberal, and radical political factions fl exed their muscles. Conservatives were able to force the relatively liberal cleric Mohammad Khâtami to resign from his position as the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance in 1992. The new minister appointed was an ultra-conservative. The Islamic codes were again strictly reinforced, and many films which would have been allowed previously were banned. Protesting the new restrictions, 134 Iranian writers wrote a letter demanding that the government relax censorship of the press and cultural products— a letter which brought severe hardships to its signatories. A month later, two hundred film directors and actors published another public letter in which they requested an end to government control of the Iranian motion picture industry. The response from conservatives was entirely negative. The clergy, the Parliament, the judiciary, and the Council of Guardians escalated the cultural offensive. From late 1994 through mid-1997, Iran witnessed the most repressive campaign since the 1979 revolutionary upheaval. For instance, in 1996, virtually none of the 1500 fiction manuscripts and screenplays under review in the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance received approval. Instead, new rules were enforced, including no use of makeup, no women running, and no antagonists with the name of a sacred Islamic fi gure—such as Mohammad, ‘Ali, Hasan, or Hosayn. Violations of these rules resulted not only in censorship, but also in outrage and attack by religious vigilantes. For example, Hezbollâhi militants attacked two movie theaters in Tehran because they were showing Tohfeh-ye Hend (“Present from India”), a popular comedy in which an Iranian merchant married an Indian woman. What sparked the violence were the joyous wedding scenes, including a four-minute segment showing little girls dancing. The attack ignited a panic—and then a stampede in which several moviegoers were trampled underfoot and a pregnant woman was pushed down the stairs. The protest amounted to a warning, the local press reported, about the government’s “negligence” in issuing permits for the movie to be made and then screened. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance resolved the issue by censoring that four-minute segment of the movie and forcing the director to re-cut the film. All that changed with the election of Khâtami as president in May 1997. Immediately, Khâtami declared his intention to allow a freer cultural environment by removing many of the past restrictions. He appointed ‘Atâollâh Mohâjerâni to reform the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Upon his appointment, Mohâjerâni openly declared his intention to strengthen national movie industry without putting restrictions on the import of foreign movies. He lifted the ban on previously banned movies, signaling that the past restrictive measures were not going to be exercised anymore. The film that benefi ted the most from this measure was Âdam barfi (“The Snowman”) which had been deemed “un-Islamic” because of one segment in which the male protagonist pretends to be a woman in order to marry an American man in hopes of obtaining a visa to America. In 1995, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance had banned the movie indefi nitely. When it was able to be screened in Iran, “The Snowman” made far more money than any other movie that year, and the main actor, Akbar ‘Abdi, was nominated for the best actor in an Iranian version of the Oscar. However, conservatives again created problems because they did not approve of the film being shown. On the day it was to premiere in Isfahan, militant Hezbollâhis attacked the local theater, destroyed posters, and threatened people lined up for the show. The theater shut down as a result. Nevertheless, promoters of the film persevered, and it was shown in November 1997 in 22 other cities in Iran. Social criticism began to rise to the surface, posing questions regarding the hold of the Islamic regime over society. Intellectual debate was spurred over religion, modernity, and development. The overall liberalization policies that began in the late 1980s, and ebbed and fl owed over the next decade and a half, led to a shift of themes in cinema and an increase in production of the films. Furthermore, despite its indirect attempts to encourage domestic film production, the government found itself directly involved in film production to keep the industry afl oat. In 1987, over a third of films produced were funded by the government supported agencies. The government-run Fârâbi Cinema Foundation became a major financial supporter, distributor, and promoter of Iranian movies. After the war with Iraq, the themes used in Iranian films began to change: from war, revolution, and morality to love, adventure, children, poverty, freedom, and gender discrimination. Women’s voices began to be heard, especially those who had suffered economic distress during the war. After losing the men in their family, many women were forced to become the sole source of income for their family. So, as women’s role in society began to change, the need for accurate portrayal became more apparent. To combat this misrepresentation, women began seeking creative control behind the camera, trying to prove that it is possible to portray women in a realistic light and still be in line with morality codes. Several female Iranian filmmakers began to make themselves known in the late eighties and early nineties. As a result, women’s issues have become a major theme in recent Iranian cinema, and interest in them has even spread to male directors who have been persuaded to reevaluate their own portrayals of women. Once female filmmakers became known, films with better and more diverse representations of women began to appear. The nineties saw the emergence of more dynamic female roles from the screen. Films such as Rakhshân Bani-E‘temâd’s Banu-ye Ordibehesht (“The May Lady,” 1998) and Tahmineh Milâni’s Do zan (“Two Women,” 1999) challenge the society’s standards for women by presenting women as dominant characters, faced with diffi cult situations involving relationships. When explicit critique of the human condition remained out of reach, and so determined was the will of the government to keep cinema keenly focused on ideological values that adults could not be portrayed in any manner which could be equated to real life, Iranian filmmakers began to use children as the main characters. This allowed filmmakers to evade the censors and go places where adults could not. Drawing on a popular saying that “truth can be heard from children,” they cast children to explore facets of everyday life. Several internationally celebrated examples of such films include: ‘Abbâs Kiârostami’s Khaneh-ye dust kojast? (“Where Is the Friend’s House?,” 1987) and Mashq-e shab (“Homework,” 1988); Bayzâi’s “Bashu, the Little Stranger”; Samira Makhmalbâf’s Sib (“The Apple,” 1988); ‘Ali-Rezâ Dâvudnezhâd’s Niyâz (“The Need,” 1992); Ja‘far Panâhi’s Bâdkonak-e safi d (“The White Balloon,” 1995) and Âyeneh (“The Mirror,” 1997); and Majid Majidi’s Bahcheh-hâ-ye âsman (“Children of Heaven,” 1997) and Rang-e Khodâ (“The Color of Paradise,” 1999). The relationship between children and adults in these films is used to represent Iranians themselves. Many filmmakers may use the idea of power wielded over children by strong adult fi gures to portray the constraints placed on Iranian society. In this way, children bear a lot of the weight of societal issues which cannot be expressed through adults, and in many films they are portrayed as wiser and very mature. The use of children to portray Iranian society brought about a different kind of realism in Iranian cinema. This kind of cinema tends to focus on reality rather than fantasy, and to that end, many directors use untrained children to give their films a natural quality. Children see and take in the world differently than adults. They are viewed as completely innocent, sexless, and void of the cynicism and corruption seen in adults. In this way, children are capable of portraying platonic love. Their presence in front of the camera is more real and more natural. In the 1990s, Iranian cinema moved in two directions: back to Film Fârsi and a resurgent New Wave. Ironically, the two are closely related and move in the opposite direction of each other. The New Wave films produced in Iran by filmmakers like Kiârostami, Makhmalbâf, and Panâhi do very well abroad but very poorly in the local market. As opposed to this trend, there is a resurgence of Film Fârsi after the revolution too. These are action films replete with violence and adventure. What differentiates post-revolutionary Film Fârsi from the prerevolutionary one is the replacement of sex with an overabundance of violence. These films generally do much better in local markets, especially in provincial cities. Nevertheless, the Iranian cinema has been under the international spotlight in the past decade, gaining the attention and praise of film festivals and critics—a movement which gained momentum with Kiârostami’s success at the Cannes Film Festival, as he won the “Palme d’Or” for Ta‘m-e gilâs (“The Taste of Cherry”) in 1997. Kiârostami, in fact, has had an enabling role in the current New Wave because several of the new awardees are either his students, or have worked on his scripts, or have been inspired by his style. Since 1995, Iranian films have garnered hundreds of international awards at Cannes and other festivals around the world. They have won in many fields: best picture, best foreign film, best director, best script, best actor, best documentary, and best short film. Since then, Iranian cinematographers have become a regular feature of jury in international festivals. Critics rank Iran as the world’s most important artistic national cinema, producing works comparable to Italian neo-realism. Although Iranian cinema has, by now, become a global phenomenon, Iranian filmmakers still battle with government censorship. Their success had come through negotiation and innovation in the midst of ambiguity and confl ict. Surrounded by all these confusing regulations and societal taboos, filmmakers have had to fi nd new and creative ways of getting their messages across, of saying what they want to say without angering the censors. The experience has proved to be a learning process for both the artists and the Islamic government about how to allow freedom of expression to fl ourish within a theocracy. That makes Iranian cinema what it is: a cinema of subtlety and suggestion, giving rise to multiple interpretations and wide imagination; a cinema now grounded in the aesthetics of simplicity, modesty, social contradictions, and humanistic language.