Dorna Kouzehagar
Last updated: 5 November, 2012

Threats and bans part of everyday life for Iranian filmmakers

Iranian films are garnering fame at film festivals around the world. But making movies in the Islamic republic is far from a picnic in the park, with directors and actors facing severe pressure from conservative groups.

The first step to making a film in Iran is to get permission for the script, that is to have it reviewed word by word by the authorities who usually end up re-writing it. Then a permission for casting is another obligatory step in which those who officially or non officially are blacklisted by the government are excluded.

The director, actors and even the film crew must usually be hired through the cinema department of the Islamic Guidance and Culture Ministry. And in most cases, a supervisor from the cinema department is present during shooting to control the process.

When the film is in the post-production phase, a state supervisor attends the editing part to make certain that no women close-ups are included and that no other moral issues are forgotten. A make up test before shooting also needs to be fulfilled.

At last, the edited version is sent to a verification and permission commission where the ultra-conservatives make the final decision by giving some cautionary advice about changes.

After cutting out the problematic parts, permission for screening is granted. But this is not the end as no one can show a film without advertising it. A permission process for the advertising thus begins.

And when the film is just about to be screened, another commission may decide to give only a limited screening permit if the film does not obey Islamic values enough, which means that it can not be shown in the best theatres and only during the worst screening time. If this step fails, the movie will be confiscated.

A pressure group called Ansar-e Hezbollah (Helpers of the Party of God) usually shows up when a film they disapprove of is on the screen. This happened to “Gashte Ershad” (Morality Police Patrol) and “Zendegie Khosusi” (The private life), both released earlier this year, some time after they were first screened. Following the Hezbollah plain-clothes’ threats of the producers and directors and attacks on movie theatres, both films were eventually banned from screening. In a similar situation, Tahmineh Milany, one of the Iran’s most prominent female film directors, was imprisoned for her film “Nimeh-ye Penhan” (The Hidden Half).

Recently, conservative websites inside the country reported on a new pressure group called the “Movement against nudity in Iranian Cinema”. In their first statement, they took aim at the Iranian actress Niki Karimi, saying her look and hijab during the recent Abu Dhabi International Film Festival 2012, where she served on the jury panel, did not fulfil Islamic rules.

Karimi has also made two future movies that were banned and never reached the screen. She is one of the few Iranian actresses who still stay in the country, despite the increasingly worsening working conditions for filmmakers. Recently, the women’s head of Bassij – the Islamic Revolutionary Guard’s Militia – asked to have Niki Karmi banned from working.

Golshifteh Farahani, another Iranian actresses, also attended the Abu Dhabi festival to receive an award for her new film “Syngué sabour” (The patience stone). She appeared nude in this film, which is an adaptation of the best-selling novel by Atiq Rahimi, who was also the director. Farahani was totally banned from her homeland after posing topless for French magazine Madame Le Figaro, and a Cesar Awards teaser.

Following this, conservative media in Iran put a lot of pressure on her family. The parents of the exiled Iranian actress took a call at their residence in Tehran from a man who said he was an official with the supreme court of the Islamic Republic. He shouted at her father, saying that his daughter’s breasts would be cut off and presented to him on a plate. Following the threats and pressures, her father Behzad Frahani, had a heart attack and was hospitalised.

Iranian actresses who travel abroad to attend festivals or events are all obliged to wear the hijab to avoid trouble back home. Farahani was first banned from leaving Iran to appear in the 2008 Russell Crowe film “Body of Lies,” not wearing a headscarf at the opening. After passing several interrogations, she was finally allowed to leave the country.

Most adult Iranians have seen sex videos on the Internet and cell phones of Mullahs or celebrities, but conservative forces in the country are still trying hard to censor women’s hair and skin from the screen.

Dorna Kouzehagar is an Iranian journalist who has worked in IRIB, INN (News) TV and some banned newspapers such as Bonyan in Iran.