Persecution and The Art of Filmmaking

Published in the Liberties

Iran today may be best known for two things: one of the most repressive regimes in the world and one of the most remarkable cinemas in the world. The coexistence of the two is a conundrum that perplexes many people. How does a country known for ferocious repression of dissent and artistic freedom produce some of the most impressive films in the world? What does this tell us about the relationship between autocracy and art? And how are we to understand Iran’s cinematic community, often a victim of the regime’s policies of censorship and persecution? Are Iranian films political by nature and if so, what is their politics?    If one wants to think about art and politics, Iran is a worthy starting place, particularly with the most renowned director in Iranian history, whose films were born not out of engagement, positive or negative, with politics, but out of an emancipatory rejection of politics. Abbas Kiarostami began making a name for himself in film festivals in the 1990s. Then in his fifties, the Iranian director had been making films for more than two decades, and was best known in his homeland for his experimental documentaries. If your interest in cinema went beyond the transitory thrills of film festivals, you would have known that his career predated the Iranian revolution of 1979 by many years. Kiarostami had first practiced his art in the Institute for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, a remarkable center founded in the 1960s by Farah Pahlavi, Iran’s last queen. But it was Kiarostami’s first post-1979 fiction film that helped him break out on the festival circuit — and in the process, give birth to a new Iranian cinema.    Made in 1987, Where is the Friend’s Home? had initially struggled to find a global audience. In 1988,

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