In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Iranian Cinema

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • General Histories
  • From the Qajar Era to the First Pahlavi Era, 1900–1941
  • Documentary Films

Cinema and Media Studies Iranian Cinema
Farshid Kazemi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 August 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0293


Iranian cinema first came under international attention for its prerevolutionary art cinema known as the Iranian New Wave and more widely for its postrevolutionary cinematic movement called the New Iranian Cinema. However, Iran has had a longstanding history of cinema that began in 1900, with the introduction of film technology by the Qajar court photographer Ibrahim Khan Sani al-Saltaneh Akkasbashi. The development of cinema in Iran is inextricably linked to the development of modernity and the nation-state. The cinema in Iran was an important site where modernity (tajadud) and the nation (mellat) were respectively constructed, contested, and negotiated throughout the long 20th century and into the new millennium. The history of Iranian cinema is punctuated by the two revolutions in 20th-century Iran, namely the constitutional revolution of 1905–1911 and the later Islamic Revolution in 1979. Both of these events left an indelible mark on Iran and Iranian cinema, but none more so than the Islamic Revolution. In the second Pahlavi era and just before the 1979 revolution, along with the popular commercial cinema called filmfarsi (“Persian film”), Iranian cinema witnessed the development of art-house cinema or the Iranian New Wave (mowj-e now) as a reaction to this popular cinema, which was influenced by the aesthetics of Italian Neorealism and the French New Wave. But it is largely with the New Iranian Cinema of the postrevolutionary era that Iranian cinema received worldwide critical attention, wining regular awards at prestigious film festivals around the globe. After the 1979 revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic, new guidelines were established by the state apparatus to ensure that films produced in Iran were made according to the logic of an Islamic “system of modesty” (hejab in its broadest sense). Paradoxically, these censorship guidelines forced Iranian filmmakers to develop a new filmic grammar, which in a constant negotiation with state censors, contributed to a new visual and aural film form that is distinctive to Iranian cinema. In this way, the history of cinema in Iran can be divided into four distinct periods, from the Qajar era to the first Pahlavi period (1900–1941), the second Pahlavi era (1942–1979), the postrevolutionary era with the Islamization of Iranian cinema (1980–1988), and the emergence of the New Iranian Cinema (1990s and early 2000s). In the early 21st century, there is a subtle but visible shift away from the formal and narrative strategies of the New Iranian Cinema. It is too early at this stage to categorize the formal logic and aesthetics of this new iteration of Iranian cinema, as we are in the midst of its development, but if the New Iranian Cinema was recognizable under the sign of its master practitioner, Abbas Kiarostami (d. 2016), the new trend in Iranian cinema is perhaps under the visible influence of the two-time Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi.

Reference Works

The critical and theoretical study of Iranian cinema is still in its infancy, but there is a bourgeoning scholarly literature on various aspects of Iranian cinema, albeit compared to other “national” cinemas, there is still a paucity of reference works that provide broad general surveys of the history of cinema in Iran. The Encyclopaedia Iranica articles Akrami 1991 and Gaffary 1991 are excellent introductory articles for students, with useful primary-source references. Naficy 1979 and Naficy 2001 are critical and engaging overviews of the history of Iranian cinema. Mottahedeh 2006 and Chaudhuri 2005 both provide valuable introductions to the New Iranian Cinema after the 1979 revolution. Sadr 2006 covers the political history of a century of Iranian cinema. A generally useful reference work is Jahed 2012–2017. Mehrabi 2012 is perhaps the single-best source for the history of film posters in Iran. Mottahedeh 2009 is an excellent look at the history of Iranian cinema through the lens of the senses.

  • Akrami, Jamsheed. “Cinema ii: Feature Films.” In Encyclopaedia Iranica. Edited by Ehsan Yarshater. New York: Columbia University, 1991.

    Another veteran film critic who provides a good overview of the history of feature films in Iran.

  • Chaudhuri, Shohini. “Iranian Cinema.” In Contemporary World Cinema Europe, the Middle East, East Asia and South Asia. By Shohini Chaudhuri, 71–92. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005.

    A short introduction to postrevolutionary New Iranian Cinema, with good filmic examples drawn from its characteristic directors.

  • Gaffary, Farrokh. “Cinema i: History of Cinema in Persia.” In Encyclopaedia Iranica. Edited by Ehsan Yarshater. New York: Columbia University, 1991.

    Gaffary was one of the veteran directors of the Iranian New Wave and an actor, critic, and scholar of Iranian cinema. He provides a valuable overview of the history of cinema in Iran. The article is in need of being updated, and the use of the term “Persia” is anachronistic.

  • Jahed, Parviz, ed. Directory of World Cinema: Iran. 2 vols. Bristol, UK: Intellect, 2012–2017.

    A reference work that covers individual films, genres, and directors in the history of Iranian cinema, but the articles and publication are at times of uneven quality (typos, etc.).

  • Mehrabi, Massaud. A Hundred Years of Film Adverts and Film Posters in Iran. Tehran, Iran: Nazar Research and Cultural Institute, 2012.

    An excellent bilingual volume that presents the long history of Iranian films through the visual register of film posters. The volume contains many wonderful specimens of film posters by the great Iranian graphic artist Morteza Momayez.

  • Mottahedeh, Negar. “New Iranian Cinema.” In Traditions in World Cinema. Edited by Linda Badley, R. Barton Palmer, and Steven Jay Schneider, 176–192. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006.

    A concise and valuable introduction to the unique film form that has provided a new aesthetic regime to the postrevolutionary New Iranian Cinema.

  • Mottahedeh, Negar. “Iranian Cinema in the Twentieth Century: A Sensory History.” Iranian Studies 42.4 (2009): 529–548.

    DOI: 10.1080/00210860903106279

    An excellent look at the history of Iranian cinema through the prism of the senses, which the author argues were extended by film technologies. The so-called purification of the sensorium instantiated by the Shi‘ite state was created in order to cleanse the national body through the filmic apparatus.

  • Naficy, Hamid. “Iranian Feature Film: A Brief Critical History.” Quarterly Review of Film Studies 4.4 (1979): 443–464.

    DOI: 10.1080/10509207909361016

    A broad scholarly overview of the history of Iranian feature films.

  • Naficy, Hamid. “Iranian Cinema.” In Companion Encyclopedia of Middle Eastern and North African Film. Edited by Oliver Leaman, 130–222. London: Routledge, 2001.

    An introductory overview of the history of Iranian cinema covering the Qajar era (1900–1925), the Pahlavi era (1926–1978), and the Islamic Republic era (1979–1999).

  • Sadr, Hamid Reza. Iranian Cinema: A Political History. London: I. B. Tauris, 2006.

    The author is an Iranian film critic and provides a politically inflected look at the history of Iranian cinema from the beginning to 2005.

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