History in Motion: Cinematic Imaginaries in Pre-Revolutionary Iran

The valorization of post-revolutionary Iranian cinema on the festival-circuit has resulted in a predicament of sorts. While films subject to excessive censorship and other structural restrictions have attained passage to discerning international audiences, their appearance has simultaneously permitted the implicit elision of pre-revolutionary cinematic culture. This panel is guided by the desire to ameliorate this diminishing effect by highlighting a broad swath of time in the Iranian imaginarium when avante garde, didactic, nationalist and commercial cinematic endeavours were topics of burgeoning discussions, projects which came to bear influence upon the bedrock of post-revolutionary motion-picture enterprises. Attending to Iranian cinema as a remedial landscape with particular features and to its materiality in celluloid film frames, this panel highlights moments that expose the industry's relation to Iranian modernity, nation and history at large.
“A Cinema Beyond-the-Nation: the Making of a Cosmonational Cinema in Iran” explores the paradox in the emergence of a “national” cinema in early 1930s Iran that had its basis in cosmopolitan filmic relations with neighbouring countries. The shaping of this cinema amidst the expansion of global cinematic projects that located Iran at the intersection of an international ideological constellation is also investigated. We see a direct byproduct of this constellation in "Oil: pastoralism & modernity in the Golestan film cycle," which examines Ibrahim Golestan's ten year film workshop (including A Fire (1958-61), and, Mudbrick and Mirror (1965)) and brings forth the contrasting representations of Iranian modernity and pastoralism as they relate to the oil industry and the question of officially sanctioned sponsorship. Working off the theme of a single structuring material element, “The Archive of Second-Hand Cinema: Masoud Kimiai’s Pesar-e Sharghi and the Celluloid Album,” moves us from oil to celluloid film frames. Concentrating on Masoud Kimiai's short film, Pesar-e Sharghi (1975), this paper considers the role of celluloid scrapbook in recollecting Kimiai's early stories of cinema-going as a child and how such frames can enrich the function of historiography in film studies. “'Namayesh ba zendegi': Fereydoun Rahnema and the Antagonistic Image,” explores the negotiation of heterogeneous forms and antagonism in Iranian society, forces that generated early Iranian New Wave Cinema in the early 1960s. Focusing on Fereydoun Rahnema's 1976 film, The Son of Iran Has No News From His Mother, this paper argues that Iranian New Wave presented film as a window opening onto an inside, through its intermediality and appeal to ancient Iranian arts.

Personal Information (Panel Organizer)

Golbarg Rekabtalaei
University of Toronto


Hamid Naficy
Northwestern University


by Golbarg Rekabtalaei / University of Toronto

In the early twentieth century, Iran had become a diasporic hub for Azerbaijani, Armenian, Russian, Georgian, Ottoman Turkish, Indian, German, British and French communities, who traded, intermingled and co-existed in the urban centres of the country. To facilitate communication among such diverse communities, these groups – in addition to their native counterparts – operated sites of sociability that also patronised cinematograph screenings in their daily programs. These heterotopic spaces prompted heterogeneous interactions and provided projections of familial and unfamilial images through motion pictures, that in turn constantly territorialised and deterritorialised audiences. As such, cinema functioned as a 'space of becoming,' where boundaries of self/other, national/international and local/global shifted.
It was amidst such cosmopolitan cinematic culture that a Persian-language cinema, or what has been generally regarded as a “national (read nationalist) cinema” emerged in the early 1930s. What should, however, be of critical scrutiny is the contradiction that lies in the identification of this cinema as “national.” Surveying a number of Persian language silent and talkie films from the 1930s, namely Haji Agha, the Cinema Actor (1933), Bulhavas (1928-1933), and The Lur Girl (1933), among others, this paper suggests that the first Persian language cinema that emerged in that era was a “cosmonational cinema,” in that it drew from its preceding cosmopolitan cinematic culture (in terms of directors, actors, and logistics), as well as, transnational cinematic elements in its productions. Following Michel Laguerre, cosmonational cinema here manifests a global social field of interaction, where the cinema of homeland and diasporic sites depend and rely on each other for support. This paper, moreover, places the emergence of this cosmonational cinema in parallel to the emersion of a group of international film projects that attended to the history and culture of Persia, namely the Soviet Armenian film, Khazpush (1928), Soviet Azeri movie, Gilan's Daughter (1928), and a number of British news reels and documentaries. Such global projects constituted Iran/Persia as a zone of global ideological contestations and political conflicts. Thus, this paper contends that while the Persian cosmonational cinema imbibed and localized global cinematic elements, the international cinematic undertakings placed Iran/Persia in an ideologically-ridden global order in the early 1930s.

by Negar Mottahedeh / Duke University

By 1951 British Pathé, the documentary film company, was rushing out films on Persian oil in numbers. The short films documented British efforts in locating oil in Abadan. In close-up they captured some awe-inspiring modern machinery at work, plunging into the earth on largely road-less, barren lands. In voice-over they convinced audiences that these efforts in oil led to the development of schools and hospitals in Persia, ensuring the education of the nation and better sanitary conditions for its people. By the late 1950s it was common for film audiences to see American businessmen and scientists setting off to Iran on business trips in Hollywood feature films. In Douglas Sirks' 1956 Written on the Wind, for example, Rock Hudson plays an oil geologist for a Texan oil company. In love with the beautiful Lauren Bacall, the wife of his best friend, he escapes to Iran to avoid complications of the heart. Thus, modern Iran was born onto the silver screen because of oil. Ebrahim Golestan's film workshop had its embryonic beginnings in oil as well. Golestan made films for the American-Iranian oil company for many years and was later commissioned to make films by the nationalized oil consortium following Prime Minister Mossadeq's efforts to curtail British and American interests in the country. In a close reading of the Golestan workshop's short film, A Fire (1958-61), and feature, Mudbrick and Mortar (1965), this paper considers contrasting representations of Iranian pastoralism and modernity in a ten year cycle of films produced by the Golestan workshop, considering the national differences in these representations in light of earlier screened views of Iranian pastoralism and modernity in foreign films sponsored by the oil industry.

by Kaveh Askari / Western Washington University

Masoud Kimiai’s Eastern Boy (Pesar-e Sharghi, 1975) offers a point from which to discuss alternative approaches to cinema historiography. The short production, sponsored by the Center for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, dramatizes the collecting, trade, and display of scrap celluloid film frames by a gang of boys as a kind of primal scene of film fandom. In this way, the film serves as part of the archive of Hollywood in Iran. It calls for an analytical approach that comingles a reading of the film with a material history of the celluloid material in it. The film’s imaginative constructions of cinema-going (an important topos of new-wave filmmaking) link up with empirical evidence from exhibition records in Iranian newspapers, from print identification of the films-within-the-film, and from interviews with people who collected film frames as children. The goal in making these connections is to expand upon approaches to the moving-image archive that are underexplored in the discipline of film studies. Moving from this question, the paper will also examine the role of the celluloid scrapbook in contemporary recollections of childhood cinephilia. These stories include Kimiai’s recollections of cinema-going as a child. If Kimiai’s childhood stories can be seen as a template for his tough-guy films, situating this particular film within an expanded archive draws attention to precisely those intersections of sponsorship, genre, fandom, and new-wave style that were essential during this period.