An Absolute-making Factory
Film International No. 37 featured the views of 50 prominent international film figures in a story entitled “Survey on Iranian Cinema”. A number of them were of the opinion that the age of that type of Iranian films with children and young adults as their main characters were over: “Western viewers are bored by such Iranian films”. A number of Iranian critics too have expressed the same view.
Is this a well-wishing and appropriate view to be expressed about the Iranian cinema? Although such a view is not far from reality, yet it is only a small part of reality. It is true that owing to the censorship applied about a number of sensitive issues including the war, which started following the invasion of Iranian territories, by Saddam Hussein’s army, a number of elite filmmakers of Iran deliberately worked on screenplays with child and young adult characters. But this was not a spontaneous move. It had its roots deep in the history of Iranian cinema and its audiences’ cultural, local and cinematic needs.
The second period of post-Revolution Iranian cinema started with outstanding films such as The Runner (Amir Naderi, 1985), Where Is My Friend’s Home (Abbas Kiarostami, 1986). The Key (Ebrahim Forouzesh, 1986) and a number of other movies which claimed many awards at international film festivals. This genre of films continued with movies such as Scabies (Abolfazl Jalili, 1987), Bashu, the Little Stranger (Bahram Bayzai, 1987), Water, Wind, Dust (Amir Naderi, 1988), Homework (Abbas Kiarostami, 1988), The Boots (Mohammad Ali Talebi, 1990)… Children of Heaven (Majid Majidi, 1999) which represented Iran in the run-up for the 2000 Academy Awards. Further to their natural performance, the way all films do, these films became highly popular with international festivals of films for children and young adults; festivals, which, for various reasons, are no longer as significant as they once, were.
A new chapter was opened in Iranian cinema in 1969 with the launching of the Institute for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, a highly productive center for producing films tailored for the needs of children and young adults. The center was believed to be a showcase for the Shah’s regime and an apparatus to keep dissident intellectuals busy with non-political activities. No matter what the objective was, the outcome was undeniably precious thanks to the capabilities of Iranian filmmakers. The center produced more than 100 films before 1979, some of which are amongst the finest products of Iranian cinema. The center’s first products were screened at the Fifth International Festival of Films for Children and Young Adults in Tehran in 1970 and were warmly welcomed by an international jury and the circle of international celebrity who frequented the festival every year as well as the Iranian audiences of the event hitherto dedicated to non-Iranian films only.
A short while after the 1979 Islamic revolution, the center resumed its activities. Therefore, it is not right to assume that the production of this genre of films in Iranian cinema started with The Runner and Where Is My Friend’s Home? The genre could be traced back to as early as Harmonica (Amir Naderi, 1974) and A Simple Event (Sohrab Shahid-Saless, 1975).
About a decade ago, Abbas Kiarostami who was believed to be able only to make films in this genre changed the course of his filmmaking by making Through the Olive Trees (1993). And he was not alone in this new road as there are others who used to make films for children and are now experiencing with another type of content. Now the movie theaters designated to show films for children are in trouble as these films are in short supply.
Once there was a fierce competition among “Institute for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults”, National Film Board of Canada and many film studios particularly in Eastern Europe to have their films screened at prestigious international film festivals. They made hundreds of good films for children and young adults every year. These films were not produced for money. Instead, they were after promoting cultural values of global significance. This does not mean that films are no longer made for children. There are plenty of films such as Home Alone, Harry Potter, Spiderman, Toy Story, Spykids, Shrek, Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc. which sell millions of dollars and make their producers even more greedy to gain a bigger share of the market. That is all right. But what is going to happen to the cultures – they are now called sub-cultures – in this market? Is something like the mushrooming fast food culture awaiting national cinemas? If Iranian, Chinese, Arab, African and European children are supposed to have the same cinematic and cultural taste; and to think, eat, dress and behave in the same way, the future, in another way, would look like the Orwellian world of Nineteen-Eighty-Four and Karel Capek’s Rossum’s Univrsal Robots.
The 19th Festival of Films for Children and Young Adults will be held in Isfahan from the 3rd to the 8th of October in the same way that the festival in Giffoni was held from 17th to 24th of July: a limited number of films with no distinct identity in the competition section, a tribute to one or two filmmakers who once used to make good films for children and young adults and… for children who are pale copies of each other in Mr. Mc Luhan’s global village.