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A really big deal. Iranian cinema has a rich and illustrious history. It dates back all the way to 1900 when Mosafaredin Shah was introduced to the cinematograph on his travels to France. The first theatres in Iran were open in 1903 and the first film school was opened in 1930.
However things really took off in 1969, in a period that is now referred to as New Wave. The New Wave was a result of the public’s negative reactions to mainstream cinema, they felt the films being produced did not reflect Iranian life, society or culture. The result was a surge of films that were original, artistic and political.
“The movies I make are deeper. This kind of work can live more, longer, deeper, compared to that kind of journalistic work…” – Samira Makhmalbaf
Samira was born in Tehran, Iran in 1980 and is considered by many including the “Iranian New Wave” and “The Guardian” as one of the most influential film makers and script writers in the industry today.
Film making is in her blood, as her father, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, is also a notable director and writer. Samira has been a long term activist for women’s rights. She hopes that Iran will produce more female directors as according to her there are many different kinds of women in Iran who “if they find a chance to express themselves, I’m sure have plenty of things to say”.
Her Most Notable Films
One of the films most associated with Makhmalbaf is “At Five In The Afternoon”. It’s a 2003 film that goes quite a way in challenging the many stereotypes that large groups of people have about Afghanistan.
The film follows the story of a young woman attempting to gain an education in the country after the fall of the Taliban. It follows the struggles she has to go through to gain something that many in the Western world take for granted. The film premiered at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival and was well received, gaining two awards, the Jury Prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.
Another one of her most notable works is the 1998 film, “The Apple”. It was one of her first works and is a fascinating tale of a father who in the pursuit of preventing his two young daughters from being “corrupted” by the “vices of the outside world” imprisons them in their home from the day they are born.
Understandably this hinders their development and they are barely able to speak or even walk properly. What makes the film even more powerful is that it’s based on a true story and the film actually features some of the people from the real life tale.
“Even though they were, you know, movie characters, they’re like living people for me, and people whom I know and whom I have touched. I’ve always been thinking about what stage of their life they would be at right now and what they would be up to…” – Rakhshan Bani-E’temad, FilmComment.com
Bani-E’temād was born in Tehran, Iran in 1954. She is a critically acclaimed director and screenwriter. She is considered by many both domestically and internationally as the “First Lady of Iranian Cinema” and “Iran’s premier female director”. This is due largely to the prominence and quality of her work as well as the length of time she has spent successfully in the film industry.
She was born in to a middle class family and demonstrated an interest in films from a young age. She gained a Bachelor of Arts degree in film studies from the Dramatic Arts University in Tehran.
She cements her place on our list due to her raising important social and political issues as part of a large body of work. Over the years she has developed a distinct style and often her movies seem a cross between a documentary and a feature film.
A key film she is known for is the 2002 movie “Our Times”. The film covers a broad spectrum of political and social issues through the telling of two stories.
On one side it explores political ideas through story of young political campaigners who are on the side of Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, whom they believe will bring real reform to the country.
On the other side it explores social issues through the story of Arezu Bayat, a single mother (who decides to run for president herself) but who is still struggling to find a new apartment. This brings to light the prejudice in the society through depicting the reluctance of some property owners to rent to a single woman.
Another one of her popular works is the 2005 film “Gilaneh”. The film centres around Gilaneh and her daughter Maygol, at a time when their country is at war with Iraq. The two travel across Iran in a desperate attempt to find Maygol’s husband, as she is expecting a child. The latter half of the film is set in 2003, as the US is at war with Iraq and Gilaneh is in Iran still dealing with the on-going problems that were a result of the Iran-Iraq war.
“On the one hand, nobody dared to finance my project, and on the other hand, I never agreed to reduce the quality of my movie for financial reasons…” – Manijeh Hekmat, SenseOfCinema.com
Hekmat was born in 1962 in Arak, Iran. She has been in the industry since the 80’s and directed her first feature film in 2002. Hekmet is one of the best known Iranian female directors and also has quite the film family. She is married to director Jamshid Āhangarāni and their daughter is also in the film business, as an upcoming actress.
One of Hekmat’s most notable films is also her first foray into directing. “Women’s Prison” was released in 2002 to critical acclaim. It has achieved widespread popularity being shown in an impressive 80 international film festivals.
The film spans an 18 year period in an Iranian women’s prison. The story centres around two women: a tough new prison warden and a young midwife who is in prison for killing her mother’s abusive husband. The film is an amazing tale of how over a period of eight years the warden becomes less violent and aggressive toward the midwife as she sees the many good things the midwife does.
Another one of Hekmat’s popular films is “3 Women”. Much like “Women’s Prison”, this film is also set over a large period of time. The movie spans the life of three generations of women (grandma, mum and daughter).
The movie centres around the frictions and issues arising from three generations of women with slightly different outlooks and that want slightly different things. It is a film about culture and the effect that time has on it.
I hope you enjoyed my breakdown of who I believe to be the most important and most influential Iranian female political film directors and the films that make them great.
I hope this has peaked your interest enough to want to explore some Iranian cinema.
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