The revolution (1978–1979) had a profound impact on Iranian arts. Films came to be viewed as products of the West and consequently were banned, and many theatres were burned down. Slowly, in the early 1980s, film production began again, but there was heavy censorship imposed on both production and exhibition. Many filmmakers left the country in exile but continued to produce films for the Iranian diaspora. In Iran, censorship guidelines followed strict Islamic doctrines, which demanded the banning of women onscreen as well as behind the camera. Love, which had been an integral theme in Iranian cinema before the revolution (a clear influence of Persian poetry), could no longer be depicted in movies after the introduction in 1983 of Islamic guidelines for filmmakers. Later, when restrictions were slightly loosened and women were allowed back onto the screen in 1987, there was still heavy censorship; for example, actors of opposite sexes were not allowed to touch each other unless they were related in real life. Around this time women filmmakers began to emerge, including Rakhshan Bani-Etemad (b. 1954) ( Kharej az mahdudeh [ Off Limits ], 1987) and Puran Derakhshandeh (b. 1951) ( Paraneh kuchak khoshbakhti [Little Bird of Happiness], 1988). In 1987 the Farabi Cinema Foundation was established to ensure that films being produced were of a high quality and not motivated merely by profit.
Abbas Kiarostami is perhaps the most famous of Iranian directors, as well as a poet and photographer. After studying painting at Tehran University, he began designing posters and illustrating children's books, founding the filmmaking section of the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults (also known as Kanoon), where he made educational films for children and directed commercials while formulating his own aesthetic approach to cinema.
Kiarostami's first feature film was Nan va Koutcheh ( The Bread and Alley , 1970). Although he did make some award-winning films before the Iranian revolution in 1978 to 1979, it was only afterward that Kiarostami's work began to be noticed in the West, winning plaudits from both critics and established directors such as Martin Scorsese and Jean-Luc Godard. In 1997 Ta'm e guilass ( A Taste of Cherry ) shared the coveted Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
Nearly all of Kiarostami's films are inspired by his immediate experiences, and he always uses nonprofessional actors. The distinction between documentary and fiction is often blurred in his work, and Kiarostami himself resists their neat separation. In the first film of his acclaimed Koker trilogy, Khane-ye doust kodjastt ( Where Is the Friend's Home? , 1987), Kiarostami focuses on a young boy who attempts to return a friend's school notebook before the teacher discovers it missing. The second film, Zendegi va digar hich ( Life, and Nothing More , 1991), depicts the director of the first film and his son returning to the town where the first film was made to look for the actors from the earlier movie, but never finding them. Zire darakhatan zeyton ( Through the Olive Trees , 1994), the final film of the trilogy, is about a film crew making an important scene from Life, and Nothing More . All three films are based on real-life events but are fictional and made without a script and with a small crew.
Kiarostami's films break away from conventional narrative, and are completely self-referential, often eschewing a strict chronological structure. Bad ma ra khahad bord ( The Wind Will Carry Us , 1999) is about a filmmaker who thrusts himself into a small town, with the aim of filming a folk ritual that is to take place upon an old woman's imminent death, but it is more about mortality and the director's relation to the material he hopes to film. Employing simple imagery of daily life with an emphasis on the Iranian landscape, Kiarostami is a master of using visual imagery to convey abstract philosophical ideas and his characters' inner struggles of the soul.
Nan va Koutcheh ( The Bread and Alley , 1970), Khane-ye doust kodjastt ( Where Is the Friend's Home? , 1987), Zendegi va digar hich ( Life, and Nothing More , 1991), Zire darakhatan zeyton ( Through the Olive Trees , 1994), Ta'm e guilass ( A Taste of Cherry , 1997), Ten ( 10 , 2002)
Cheshire, Godfrey. "How to Read Kiarostami." Cineaste 25, no. 4 (2000): 8–15.
Elena, Alberto. The Cinema of Abbas Kiarostami . London: Saqi Books, 2005.
Saeed-Vafa, Mehrnaz, and Jonathan Rosenbaum. Abbas Kiarostami . Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003.
Tasker, Yvonne, ed. Fifty Contemporary Filmmakers . London and New York: Routledge, 2002.
The end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988 and the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 brought change to Iran, and the election of Mohammad Khatami in 1997 gave filmmakers slightly more freedom—Khatami was a
supporter of the Iranian New Wave and the work of many local directors. Iranian films were seen by more people around the world and won prestigious prizes at film festivals. Jafar Panahi's (b. 1960) Badkonake Sefid ( The White Balloon , 1995) won the Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and in 1997 Abbas Kiarostami's (b. 1940) Ta'm e guilass ( A Taste of Cherry ) won the festival's Palme d'Or. Many women came out of the shadows and began to establish themselves once again in the industry. Some key figures include Tahmineh Milani and Derakhshandeh.
Most films of this time were funded by the government, though once made, they often were banned from screening in Iran. In terms of style and subject matter, many directors took their lead from European cinemas and movements, particularly Italian neorealism. This is evident in such films as Kelid ( The Key , Ebrahim Forouzesh, 1987) and The White Balloon . Social commentary, brought into the arena during the New Wave, continued after the revolution, and many of the films that were not banned revolved around stories of the revolution disguised as adventure stories, such as Nun va Goldoon ( A Moment of Innocence , 1996). These films, based on local people suffering from circumstances not of their own making, tread a fine line between documentary and fiction. Due to budget constraints, a majority of these films were shot on location.
Many filmmakers had opposed the shah during Iran's revolution, believing that if his government were overturned they would be given free reign to produce the films they wanted, and not necessarily purely for profit, but the new, clerical government took away equipment, film stock, and resources from filmmakers in order to control filmic representations of Iranian society. Every film's synopsis, screenplay, cast, and crew, and the completed film, all have to be approved by the censorship board if the film is to be made and exhibited in Iran. Although the Islamic government began a process of Islamization of the arts in 1979, filmmakers and other artists have managed to free themselves from the constraints of official ideology. One way in which artists managed to do this was by moving out of Iran and making diasporic films. Others based their films around children and adventure stories with heavy undertones of heroism and liberal principles. There was a shortage of film theatres in the country due to the burning of cinemas during the revolution, while many that still existed were in very bad condition. With the government in debt and with the United States–led boycott of Iran, the rebuilding and refurbishment of film theatres was low on the government's list of priorities. However, over time, theatres were rebuilt and refurbished. There are many film theatres in the large towns and cities in Iran, but not many in rural areas.
Among the most important directors of the New Wave, Mohsen Makhmalbaf (b. 1957) came to the fore in the 1980s with films such as Dastforoush ( The Peddler , 1987) and Arousi-ye Khouban ( Marriage of the Blessed , 1989). Many of his films were banned from exhibition in Iran: Gabbeh (1996), for example, was banned for being rebellious, but his films have been released internationally and very well received. Makhmalbaf has established a production company that allows him to coproduce films with France, and it was under this production house that he produced the directorial debut of his daughter, Samira Makhmalbaf (b. 1980), Sib ( The Apple , 1998). Makhmalbaf's Safare-Ghandehar ( Kandahar , 2001), one of his most popular films, tells the story of Nafas, an Afghan journalist who is exiled to Canada and returns to Afghanistan to find her sister, who is fed up with the Taliban regime. Like many of Makhmalbaf's films, Kandahar is a combination of documentary and fiction, using a hand-held camera and other techniques associated with documentaries to give it a greater emotional power. Abbas Kiarostami ( A Taste of Cherry , 1997) is one of the best-known Iranian directors internationally, although he is not as popular in Iran. Like many other Iranian directors, Kiarostami blends fact and fiction, using both nonprofessional and professional actors in his films. Along with Makhmalbaf, Kiarostami was one of the founders of the New Wave movement before the revolution. Kiarostami not only directs but also writes his screenplays and edits some of his films. With their combination of painting, poetry, and philosophy, they have been compared to the great works of such directors as Akira Kurosawa and Satyajit Ray.
Dabashi, Hamid. Close Up: Iranian Cinema Past, Present, and Future. London and New York: Verso Books, 2001.
Hayward, Susan. Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts . 2nd ed. London and New York: Routledge, 2001.
Issari, Mohammed Ali. Cinema in Iran, 1900–1979 . Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1989.
Naficy, Hamid. "Iranian Cinema." In The Oxford History of World Cinema , edited by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, 672–678. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1996.
——. "Islamizing Cinema in Iran." In Iran: Political Culture in the Islamic Republic , edited by Samih K. Farsoun and Mehrdad Mashayekhi, 173–208. Routledge: London, 1992.