Iranian Cinema and Festivals

F for Festival
by Massou Mehrabi

Film festivals have a rather long history in Iran which goes back to some 55 years ago. The first film festival held in Iran ever, was organized by the National Film Center of Iran in August 1950. It featured some fine British films directed by great filmmakers such as Carol Reed and John Grierson. At that time, Iran had started to produce films once again after a 12-year-long halt. The second period of film production had started in Iran as early as 1948. However, the films were still not qualitatively fit to be screened at any festival. In 1958, the first Tehran Film Festival screened, among other works, a few Iranian films only to show a national interest in films. It was in the early 1960s that a film festival was launched to become Iran's oldest film festival so far. This festival is organized by the Iranian Ministery of Education which has decided to give it a new name once in every few years. The names have changed from Educational Films Festival to Roshd Film Festival. Except two one-off film festivals, namely Retrospective du Cinema Francais which was held in collaboration with the Iran-France Cultural Society and the National Film Archive of Iran in 1962, and A Festival of Experimental Film, from the United States which was held in 1967 by the Iran-America Cultural Society, two more durable film festivals gave rise to the idea of the “Tehran International Film Festival”. These were the International Festival of Films for Children and Young Adults which was held for 13 years before the 1979 Islamic Revolution as one of the best-known film festivals of Iran, and Sepas film Festival which started in 1970 as the Iran equivalent of the Oscar. The latter was a review of the films made in the past year and presented awards for different fields.
It was after these film events that film industry officials came up with the idea of the Tehran International Film Festival and tried to hold it as an extensive event. The person who had launched the International Film Festival for Children and Young Adults and was now well experienced managed to convince the officials of the Ministry of Arts and Culture to organize a "class A" festival accredited by the International Federation of Film Producers Association (FIAPF). Apart from convincing the Iranian officials, he had a hard time getting the consent of FIAPF about launching an international film festival in Iran. In those years, FIAPF was about to demote some old and well-established film festivals such as Locarno. So, it did not welcome the idea of another class A event. Iran's representative argued that Asia was a densely populated continent without any international film festival and that Iran could be the best possible venue for such an event. After convincing FIAPF that Iran was capable enough, the first Tehran International Film Festival opened in April 1973. Althouh the festival never reached the level of Cannes and Venice, however, it managed to become well known as a class A festival. It was a highly reputable festival and many well-known filmmakers took part in it with their films. Great filmmakers such as Francesco Rosi, Grigori Kozintsev, Alain Tanner, Pietro Germi, Nikita Mikhalkov, Krzysztof Zanussi, Martin Ritt won the festival's awards.
The Islamic Revolution put an end to that film festival but its image and idea never left the film industry's officials in the new government. One of the most relevant and frequently asked questions facing them was "How could we revive the Tehran Film Festival with the same international standards within the framework of the values of the Islamic Revolution?" Finally, they launched the Fajr International Film Festival in the first year of the 1980s. In the very first year, Milad Film Festival managed to keep the idea of a film festival up-and-coming. However, fultile moves like that, which like Sepas festival originated from the mainstream Iranian cinema led to discouraging outcomes. In 1982, while the image of the Iranian cinema was not clearly defined, the Fajr Film Festival provided a venue for determining and validating the rules. The first birthday for the new Iranian cinema was held well before its birth so that the path of its entry to a new world could be paved beforehand. On the other hand, the festival reminded that Iranian cinema was surviving. The Iranian cinema wanted to be alive and live on. There was an elaborate attempt to hold the Fajr Film Festival as magnificent and spectacular as possible from its very onset. It had a background as powerful as that of the Tehran International Film Festival and wanted to remain on the same track. But the new conditions and regulations rid the Fajr Festival of the qualifications for a class A festival. Another lingering question for the officials was whether the festival could take on part of the responsibility of policy-making and setting examples. 
This year, the 24th Fajr Film Festival is being held. With a logical attitude towards the world of the film industry-art, the festival could well celebrate its 34th birthday. Although names carry the signs and meaning of their time, do not need to highlight the content associated with them.
Although the Fajr Film Festival has not yet found the place it deserves among the class A film festivals, yet, it has been successful in making policies and setting examples for the future of Iranian cinema. One could always challenge the merit of these policies and examples though.

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