Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with the renowned film maker Mr. Moslem Mansouri, and speak to him about “underground cinema” in Iran. Mr. Mansouri is one of the founders of underground cinema in Iran which started taking shape in 1996.
Underground cinema was created in response to the severe censorship imposed on Iranian artists by the Islamic Regime in Iran. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance is in charge of regulating and in reality censoring art in Iran. Film makers must first submit the transcript of their proposed film to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance for approval. If approval is granted they may start making the film, however once the film is completed it must once again be sub mitted to the Ministry to be approved for screening.
According to Mr. Mansouri, there are currently two catagories of film makers in Iran.
1. A group of film makers who agree with the Islamic Regime’s politics and policies ad who make their films in support and furtherance of these policies. In return the Islamic Regime is very supportive of these film makers. With the support of the Regime the films of these film makers are screened internationally which leads to great success for these film makers.
2. A group of film makers who refuse to work within the frame work of the Islmaic Regime. Even though these film makers may not actively be against the Regime, they refuse to further the Islamic Regime’s agenda by producing films within their policies and rules. It is extremely difficult for these film makers to make films or be recognized internationally, since they are not given any government support. Some of these film makers are Mr. Bahram Behzayi and Mr. Yaser Taghvayi. It might take these film makers 10-15 years to make one film, whereas film makers who work within the frame work of the Islamic Regime can make films much more frequently.
Mr. Mansouri went on to tell me about how along with a number of friends including Ms. Lila Ghobadi he decided to start an underground cinema in 1996. He made six films from 1996 to 1998 which became the basis for underground cinema in Iran. These films included “Trial” and “Epitaph” which is about prostitution in Iran.
Mr. Mansouri managed to secretly take his films abroad in 1999 and claimed refugee status in the United States in 1999. Underground Cinema officially announced its existence in 2004. The goal of underground cinema is to help young film makers in Ira make underground films which reflect the “real” Iranian society.
Since 2004 number of underground films have been made including a film about selling organs for money, youth execution and a film about people’s opposition and unhappiness with the Islamic Regime.
It must be noted that underground cinema has paved the way for underground music and underground literature, which is the reflection of the unhappiness of artists with the Islamic regime and it’s imposition of severe censorship on artists.
According to Mr. Mansouri, the Regime has felt so threatened by the creation of underground cinema and music that it has created its own “underground music and cinema” in order to try to destroy the real underground art.
For example a number of so called “underground concerts” have been organized in Dubai, where the organizers have been affiliated with the Islamic Regime and the concerts have taken place with the permission and under the supervision of the Islamic Regime. There have also been film makers such as Bahman Ghobadi who has claimed to make “underground films” however his films have been advertised through the Islamic Regime news agencies.
Since 2004 at least two film makers involved with underground cinema have been arrested. One of these film makers is Ms. Mona Mollahkhani, who was arrested in Sayi Park in Tehran four (4) years ago. She was making an underground film about suicide and “self burning.” She was interviewing young people in the park at the time of her arrest and she has not been heard of since her arrest.
Another individual whom Mr. Mansouri did not want to name due to safety concerns was arrested in the city of Gorgan where he was making a film about Turkman ethnic minorities and the social conditions under which they live, and the poverty that they face.
Unlike official cinema in Iran the purpose of underground cinema is to show the real side of the Iranian society including poverty, hunger and oppression. Underground cinema strives to help the people’s movement in obtaining their rights and in that way is an important tool against the Islamic Regime.
Underground cinema strives to make sure the voices of the poor, the oppressed and the vulnerable are heard internationally, since it is these groups of people who have no voice because of their social and political circumstances. Although the Islamic Regime has tried very hard to promote a voice for a reformist agenda, underground cinema is the voice of real people who are demanding real change in Iran.
A very special thanks to Mr. Mansouri who took the time to talk to me about “Underground Cinema” in Iran.
Down with the Islamic Regime in Iran
Long Live Freedom in Iran
By: Sayeh Hassan