Iranian cinema: after a 41-year ban, drive-in theater screens film in tehran

The pre-revolutionary cinema of the 1970s in Iran were films of petty, one-dimensional nature that exhibited equivalency to the exploitation films of American cinema.  Most notably, a film that commenced the first Iranian Film Festival in the 1970s, Masoud Kimiai’s Kaiser, a film noir about a man who seeks revenge for his brother’s death. It’s probable that Kaiser was inspired by a British film, Mike Hodges’ Get Carter, starring Michael Caine, which had a similar synopsis. The government in Iran underneath the Shah had full control over the film industry and repetitively produced superficial films which spawned the Iranian New Wave after the rapid growth of the film industry a decade prior, focusing on films to bring about social change and political awareness. All of these films were later banned in 1979 after the Islamic Revolution instilled harsh and irrational guidelines causing thousands of films to be shelved and archived.

Associated Press, 2020

Perhaps, the only good thing that arose out of the Islamic revolution of 1979 in Iran was the advent of elevated cinema with what came to be known as Iranian Art Films. During the 1990s, Iranian art films were often compared to films of the Italian neorealism movement of the 1940s and early ‘50s that were focused on telling stories about the poor and working class, shot entirely on location. The same way that Italian neorealism films of Roberto Rosselini (Rome, Open City) Federico Fellini (The Sweet Life) and Vittorio de Sica (Miracle in Milan) dealt with social and economic issues in Italy due to the political affects of World War I, are the same way Iranian Art Films of Abbas Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry) and Jafar Panahi (The Circle) dealt with a more pragmatic approach to filmmaking with subject matter written more sensibly and realistically based on political constraints of the Islamic Revolution. This forcibly inspired writers and directors to produce artistic films that resulted in garnering the world’s attention and achieved the highest honors in terms of awards. The Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami won the Palm d’Or for Taste of Cherry at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997. In addition to this remarkable feat, Iranian director Jafar Panahi won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2000 for The Circle. To put this in perspective, Quentin Tarantino won the Palm d’Or for Pulp Fiction at Cannes in 1994 and Todd Phillips won the Golden Lion for Joker at Venice in 2019. More recently, the two-time Iranian Oscar winner, Asghar Farhadi, won the Best Foreign Language Film Award at the Academy Awards in 2012 for A Separation and in 2017 for The Salesman.

Associated Press, 2020

Drive-in movie theaters in Iran were popular during its era of pre-revolutionary cinema. After the Islamic revolution, the government mandated a ban of all drive-ins due to the strict notion that it would provide too much privacy for couples who were unmarried. This serves as a precise illustration for theipolitical and religious dogma of the regime. Perhaps, the only good thing that has come from the nationwide lockdown in Iran is the lifting of this ban. As reported by the Associate Press, “a drive-in theater now operates from a parking lot right under Tehran’s iconic Milad tower, showing a film in line with the views of hard-liners. Workers spray disinfectants on cars that line up each night here after buying tickets online for what is called the “Cinema Machine” in Farsi. They tune into the film’s audio via an FM station on their car radios.” The Milad Tower is the 6th largest tower in the world, located in Tehran, spanning over 2,000 feet from its bottom to the top of the needle.

Associated Press, 2020

Iran has been affected horrifically by the pandemic of 2020 by reporting numbers that many suspect are not accurate with the reality of cases and mortalities. There are currently reported 100,000 plus cases with over 6,000 losses, but the real numbers are believed to be greater at almost 3 times as much. Considering the fact that more than half of Iran’s population of 80 million are in their thirties, the experience of attending a drive-in theater to view a film is a first in their lifetime. It’s been over forty years since the last time movie lovers have been able to experience the setting. The film being screened was Ebrahim Hatamikia’s Exodus, produced by a media group affiliated with the country’s regime. The film’s storyline revolved around farmers who blame the government for losing their harvests. It is apparent that the attendees at the drive-in were indifferent toward the subject matter of the story and more captivated by the experience of being able to watch a movie outdoors while sitting in their cars; something their grandparents can only vividly remember doing. History has shown that it’s in trying times where we need movies the most. Even with something as drastic as a pandemic shutting down the globe, we will always find a way to sustain ourselves through the cinema experience, whether in your home theater or the drive-in.

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