The production of feature films in Iran comes to halt in 1933, and that of Iranian films in India stops in 1937; the cinema halls of Tehran and the provinces are once again the monopoly of imported foreign films. No more developments. Iranian cinema is extinct and forgotten.
During all those years, from 1900—the year the Gaumont camera was bought by the Qajar shah, brought to Iran and installed in a corridor of the imperial palace—until 1937—the screening date of Sepanta’s last Indian-produced film—with all the “ifs” and “buts”,
must be considered the first period of Iranian cinema; a period which was not very productive, neither in quantity nor in quality. Historic documents tell us that apart from those films produced in India, between the years of 1929 and 1933 only four films were produced and shown, most of which were not successful with the public. The reasons behind their failure are complex and not the focus of this article, yet it is necessary to reflect upon them in order to gain an understanding of the social conditions and the cultural milieu of the early years of the 20th century, and to grasp how Iranian cinema did reshape itself a few years later and was able to achieve success among the general public.
Oganians returned to Iran in 1929, with limited experience in cinematographic education6 but an ocean of enthusiasm, idealism and faith, in hopes of founding a “national cinema”.7 Instead, he found that cinema had yet to be properly established. His first endeavor, even before the making of films, was to found “The School for Cinema Artists”, an art school for the teaching of acting and other cinema-related arts. In reality, he began to make films in order to put his theoretical lessons into practice, and to further encourage his students. Oganians put his efforts into making a silent film, without the knowledge (or maybe despite the fact) that talking films were on their way. One can guess how he must have felt while putting the finishing touches on Haji Aqa, the Cinema Actor for its release in late 1933, and knowing that the first talking film in the Farsi language, The Lor Girl, had already been on the screen for three months. Perhaps he did not accept failure, or perhaps he had no choice but to finish it and have it shown. Perhaps he still hoped for a way to add sound to his film. In the end he did accept his failure, and chose to screen his film with the slight hope that his film (and his efforts) might be understood and appreciated by a public as yet unfamiliar with the language of cinema and still (and perhaps even now) lacking an understanding of the culture of image.
For nearly fifteen years film production in Iran ceased altogether. These fifteen years coincide with one of Iran’s most turbulent periods of socio-political change; the fall of the Pahlavi king Reza Shah, the beginning of the second World War and subsequent occupation of Iran from North and South, famine, harsh living conditions, disclosure of governmental corruption and widespread opposition to Reza Shah’s despotism. But at the same time the modernization that had entered traditional Iranian culture from the beginning of Reza Shah’s reign was now being firmly established and consolidated.
Therefore the start of film production in 1929 was the natural consequence of the general Iranian movement toward modernization. It was the wish of the system and the people to create a national cinema industry as yet another sign of advancement, and its failure was also a natural consequence of society’s rejection of the essence of modernity, for society had not yet released its stronghold on tradition or even clarified the existing relationship. Cinema, contrary to many other manifestations of modernity, was not a simple tool to be nationalized with the scanty efforts of a few westernized citizens and intellectuals.
Bur among all manifestations of modernity, cinema was the only one with a forty-year history.