From its very inception, Iranian cinema has, in various different ways, been a site of sociopolitical contestation. In this paper, I will argue that the new cinematic movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s, acted as a countervailing force against the extant mainstream cinema of the time. For the social critics of prerevolutionary Iran, especially the religious establishment, the commercial cinema portrayed an ‘unreal space’, a tainted heterotopia that was distinctly different from the real ‘space of experience’ in Iran. For them, the mainstream cinema either functioned as a dystopic space that disseminated corruption, or as a utopic space that portrayed fantastical lives and themes that were in discrepancy with the real Iranian life. In an attempt to distantiate themselves from the commercial cinematic discourse of the time, the young directors of the ‘60s and ‘70s formulated a cinematic counter discourse that denied the messages and the images of the former cinema. The new cinema films brought to the screens, the real illustration of Iranian life in the southern parts of the capital, villages, and the remotest of regions. The poverty and suppression—evident in the streets of Iran—and the anticipation for a futurist Iranian just society supplied the young directors of this era with an agenda for a new cinematic movement. These directors utilised cinema as a political channel of communication with prominent vernacular undertones.
It can be argued that the transformation of the Iranian commercial cinema into a counter cinema, also transformed the audience of the films. Once the audience familiarised itself with its own image through the counter cinema, it attempted to defamiliarise or distance itself from the cinematic image of its Other. In the event of distantiating from the Iranian dystopic life portrayed through the counter cinema, the audience reshaped its agency and mobilised in anticipation for a better and just future. Thus, the new cinema films laid the grounds for, or prepared the audience for, the futurist undertaking that came to be known as the Revolution of 1979. One can even see a cogent argument for the idea that the religious and vernacular undertones of the films prepared the people not only for a revolution of spirit, but a political and overtly Islamic revolution.
By exploring a wide range of films that were screened in the decades prior to and during the revolution, I seek to assay the significance of cinema as a revolutionary counterspace. For the purpose of this paper, I will peruse a large array of film articles and reviews published in daily newspapers and film journals such as Sitarah-yi Sinama, Dunya-yi Sinama, Kitab-i Sinama, Sinama-yi Novin, and Ayagndigan newspaper. I will labour to demonstrate how international films, Iranian semi-documentaries, and feature films contributed to the emergence of a critical counter-discourse during the prerevolutionary period in Iran and laid the ground for the revolution of 1979.