The cinematographic camera was introduced to Iran
in 1929, as yet another tool of modernization. The establishment of cinemas and the screening of foreign films began quite early on, as an apparently profitable business and, due to its attractive and popular content, soon flourished. The vast cultural differences in Iran
caused cinema, like theater, to be a pastime of the wealthy and high classes of society. For forty years, despite the background which photography had in Iran
, the attraction it had for people of all classes as well as the royal court, and even the growing trend of westernization in Iran
, cinema remained an elite manifestation of modernity among the high classes. It is interesting to note that Iranian photographers were never inclined to use the cinematographic camera to record reports or documentary films, and there are no surviving newsreels or documentaries from that forty-year period.
It is therefore quite normal that film production in Iran would lead to failure, because Haji Aqa, the Cinema Actor was essentially a film d’auteur. Ovanians has in reality written a film, just as Abi and Rabi exploited the comedic models of silent comedy. And The Lor Girl, as the first talking film which was to shape the mind of the audience and thus create certain cinematic symbols and even clichés, remained unsuccessful in creating a productive image-culture, for was never repeated. Sepanta’s work is like Iranian merchandise produced abroad and then imported into the country, while Ovanians’ films could be thought of as Iranian merchandise produced in Iran for export. Neither made use of the opportunity to acquaint their audience with this new culture and language. It in fact takes fifteen years for the socio-cultural conditions of Iran to allow cinema to start a new cycle, with characteristics now more familiar to a more educated audience, one that is more used to all aspects of modernization. With the establishment of leftist tendencies in Iranian politics and the growing inclination of a younger generation towards higher education, layers of modernity and modernism with a nostalgic view of tradition infiltrated social life; while economic growth, the complete reshaping of social strata, as well as urbanization and other factors created a favorable background for this new beginning.
Iranian cinema has a fresh start in 1948. The story unfolds as before. A western-educated Iranian, a young adventurer full of hopes and ideals, returns to his homeland bringing filmmaking equipment and his limited technical knowledge. Esma‘il Kooshan—an economist educated in Germany—pioneers the technique of dubbing films in Farsi, and founds Mitra Films with ‘Ali Daryabeigi, resulting in the 1948 film The Storm of Life.8 Mitra Films is dissolved but Kooshan and Daryabeigi each continue their filmmaking careers. Their paths are not that different, the outlook is the same and the technique is quite elementary, their attention as well as that of all those attracted to this new industry/technique is concentrated on establishing and advancing a national industry. Eventually the efforts are fruitful and cinema becomes a “home” industry.
The years between 1948 to 1978 are on one hand Iranian cinema’s most productive periods and on the other the most misunderstood. This thirty-year period has always been mistreated by critics and analysts of Iranian cinema. This period has often been labeled “Film-farsi”, a prejudiced term coined by the film critic and historian Hooshang Kavoosi, a haunting pejorative that has prevented a truly serious, objective and analytical approach to this cinema. Whereas in reality, whether we like it or not, all contents, styles and points of view always have and always will be shaped by this view; this yardstick and probing device, which, though not yet well-defined has been transformed into a tool for reviewing and criticizing all Iranian films of the past fifty years.
All critiques, reviews (summarized and generalized) and public opinions on Iranian cinema have been unconsciously shaped by this term, and they consider the films produced in the second thirty-year period as having common characteristics; a common and general psychology, an easy and commonplace structure.