Iran Cinematography Part I

By | December 16, 2021

The first examples of cinema came in Iran at the beginning of the twentieth century, introduced by the official photographers of the royal house, who were commissioned by the shāh to document the activity of the sovereigns and the religious rites and then screen the short films to the dignitaries of the court, in occasion of official ceremonies. If the first film shot in Iran (but developed and projected only years later in Russia) is due to Mehdi Rusi Khan, a photographer of Russian origin who in 1896 filmed the coronation of Mozzafer al-Din Shah, the first Iranian to use one camera was Mirza Ebrahim Khan ‘Akkas-Bashi, who, following the Shāh Mozzaffer during a trip to Europe, on 18 August 1900 shot some images at the Ostend flower market. This film, believed lost, was instead found in the Golestan palace in Tehran, and used by Mohsen Makhmalbaf in his Gozide-ye tasāvir-e dorān-e Qājār (1992, Selected images of the Qajar era). The first public cinema hall was opened in 1902 by the antiquarian Ebrahim Khan Sahhaf Bashi, an arena set up in the courtyard of his shop mainly for the use of high society in Tehran, which was only inaugurated in 1905. by the same antiquarian, of a real cinema, intended for the projection of films purchased in the West. For Iran 2009, please check hyperrestaurant.com.

These were the beginnings of the Iranian film industry which, thanks to the considerable favor of the public, developed into a series of increasingly better equipped cinemas and which slowly began to spread from the capital to the provinces as well. An outline of an industry which, moreover, had to face both the opposition of the Islamic religious hierarchy and the social and cultural backwardness of the country. In this context, the first Iranian to shoot fictional films, albeit for private use, using family and friends was Khan Bab Khan Mo’tazedi, a Paris-trained engineer who had worked for Gaumont and was appointed official photographer of Reza. Khan, the new shāh of Iran that in 1921, with a coup d’etat,

Aside from Mo’tazedi’s attempts, Iranian production continued to be documentary in character, making most of the films screened in Tehran theaters being US and European imports. However, it was thanks to the collaboration of Mo’tazedi as a photographer that in 1930 the first Iranian film, silent and in black and white, was made, Ābi va Rābi (Abi and Rabi) by Avanes Ohanian, an Armenian who, arrived in Tehran after having studied at the Moscow Film Academy, he founded the first Iranian film school. The film, of which the film is not preserved, was shot by Ohanian with his students, and consisted of a series of skits centered on two comic characters, one tall and thin, the other short and fat. The extraordinary success achieved prompted the director to shoot a second film in 1932, Hāji Āqā, aktor-e sinemā (Haji Aqa, film actor), in which, through the story of a strict and reactionary father struggling with his daughter who studies secretly acting, the contempt for cinema nurtured in Iranian religious circles is stigmatized. This film, however, did not meet the public’s favor and Ohanian left the country to move to India. The attempt to promote an Iranian production carried out by Ebrahim Moradi was no more successful who, in addition to seeing the realization of his first film, namely Enteqām-e barādar (1932, The brother’s revenge), which he was shooting, fail due to technical difficulties on the Caspian Sea, he had to face the failure of Bolhavas (1933, The Sensual Man), in which,

These were still silent productions, which suffered from the comparison with foreign films, already sound, of which, in the meantime, the Iranian public had learned to appreciate the qualities. The structural limitations of Iran’s small film industry did not allow for further efforts; in fact, when in 1933 the first sound film in Farsi language entitled Dokhtar-e Lor (The Lor Girl) by Ardeshir Irani was shot, it was actually produced in Bombay and written by the Iranian poet who emigrated to India, ‘Abdol-Hosein Sepanta, who he was also its interpreter. The success of the film – a melodramatic adventure pitting a government agent against a bandit, both interested in a beautiful waitress – prompted Sepanta to make four more films in India, inspired by epic literature: Ferdowsi (1934), biography of the Iranian epic poet; Shirin va Farhād (1935, Shirin and Farhad), a melodramatic love story; Chashmhā-ye siāh (1935, Black eyes), still a love story, but with a historical background, and Leyli va Majnun (1936, Layla and Majnun), about the union of two young people tragically opposed by their families. The success achieved at home was not enough for Sepanta to convince the government to grant him its support when, in 1936, he returned to Iran with the intention of starting a modern film production. The situation did not improve in the following years, which in fact saw the Iranian screens increasingly invaded by foreign films, especially American ones, due to the double occupation of the country by the Anglo-Russian allied troops. love; Chashmhā-ye siāh (1935, Black eyes), still a love story, but with a historical background, and Leyli va Majnun (1936, Layla and Majnun), about the union of two young people tragically opposed by their families.

The success achieved at home was not enough for Sepanta to convince the government to grant him its support when, in 1936, he returned to Iran with the intention of starting a modern film production. The situation did not improve in the following years, which in fact saw the Iranian screens increasingly invaded by foreign films, especially American ones, due to the double occupation of the country by the Anglo-Russian allied troops. love; Chashmhā-ye siāh (1935, Black eyes), still a love story, but with a historical background, and Leyli va Majnun (1936, Layla and Majnun), about the union of two young people tragically opposed by their families. The success achieved at home was not enough for Sepanta to convince the government to grant him its support when, in 1936, he returned to Iran with the intention of starting a modern film production. The situation did not improve in the following years, which in fact saw the Iranian screens increasingly invaded by foreign films, especially American ones, due to the double occupation of the country by the Anglo-Russian allied troops. union of two young people tragically opposed by families. The success achieved at home was not enough for Sepanta to convince the government to grant him its support when, in 1936, he returned to Iran with the intention of starting a modern film production. The situation did not improve in the following years, which in fact saw the Iranian screens increasingly invaded by foreign films, especially American ones, due to the double occupation of the country by the Anglo-Russian allied troops. union of two young people tragically opposed by families. The success achieved at home was not enough for Sepanta to convince the government to grant him its support when, in 1936, he returned to Iran with the intention of starting a modern film production. The situation did not improve in the following years, which in fact saw the Iranian screens increasingly invaded by foreign films, especially American ones, due to the double occupation of the country by the Anglo-Russian allied troops.

Iran Cinematography Part I