The first Iranian newsreel was made in 1900 and the first feature film was made in 1930. But it wasn’t until the 1950s that the Iranian film industry really began to develop, and by the 1960s it was firmly established with an average of forty-one films per year. This trend of mostly commercial films increased to an average of sixty films in the 1970s, thirty-seven in the ’80s, fifty-four in the ’90s and more than sixty again after the millennium.
Admittedly, this includes a significant segment of trite and melodramatic commercial fare, a different, independent and more artistic cinema was created by a handful of visionary directors in the ‘60s and ‘70s that laid the foundations for the approaching boom of the ‘90s.
This new era in Iranian cinema was foreshadowed by Houshang Kavoussi, the first Iranian graduate of Paris’s IDHEC in 1947, who returned home afterwards and commenced a long and tremendously influential career as a film critic. He also directed his own first feature, 17 Ruz beh E’dam (17 Days to Execution) a crime drama, in 1957. The film had a solid directorial skill but suffered commercial success, which together with his controversial critical stance against the industry’s dominant commercialism heralded the new direction in Iranian Cinema that flowered with three groundbreaking films in the 1960s.
These films, made by Three intellectuals who had been educated and exposed to the cinema, art and literature of the West,greatly diverted from the commercial films that were dominant at the time. Shabe Quzi (The Night of the Hunchback, 1963), based on the tales of 1001 nights, directed by Farrokh Ghafarri, Siavash dar Takhte Jamshid (Siavash in Persopolis, 1964), by Fereydoun Rahnama and based on the Shahnameh: Book of Kings by Ferdowsi, and Khesht va Ayeneh (Mud brick and Mirror-1965), a social drama written and directed by Ebrahim Golestan, lead to the creation of another movement in the late ‘60s by virtue of three newcomers who coupled an instinct for selecting dynamic subject matter with great directorial ability to make three memorable films. The three films were Davoud Mollapour’s Ahu Khanom’s Husband (1968), a touching realistic adaptation of the novel of the same name by Mohammad Ali Afghani, Masud Kimiai’s Qeysar (Caesar, 1969), a powerful combination of commercial and artistic values, and Daryush Mehrjui’s masterpiece Gav (The Cow-1969), based on a short story by Gholam-Hosein Saedi for its grim metaphorical depiction of the society that won the Fipresci Prize at the Venice Film Festival, 1971, and the award for Best Actor at the Chicago Film Festival, 1971). They were commercially and artistically successful (particularly Geysar) and had a great impact and influence on the young filmmakers who followed them with their own fabulous films between 1970 and 1977.
Among those films that received attention and awards at several A-list festivals in the 1970s,then, are Still Life (1974) by Sohrab Shahid Saless (Silver Bear Prize for Best Film, Berlin Film Festival), Stone Garden (1976) by Parviz Kimiavi (Silver Bear Prize, Berlin Film Festival), Ragbar (1971) by Bahram Beyza’i (Special Jury Prize, Tehran Int’l Film Festival, 1972), and Shazdeh Ehtejab (1974) by Bahman Farmaara (Grand Prize, Tehran Int’l Film Festival, 1974).
Most of these filmmakers began their careers in short films, creating outstanding examples of the form that would have a tremendous impact on the new generation of Iranian directors that have appeared on the world scene since the 1990s. Among them are: Ebrahim Golestan, Parviz Kimiavi, Sohrab Shahid-Saless, Manouchehr Tayyab, Naser Taghva’I, Forough Farrokhzad, Kamran Shirdel, and Abbas Kia-Rostami. These directors created a solid foundation for the kind of cinema that blossomed after the Revolution with a new generation of exceptional filmmakers like Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Majid Majidi, Jafar Panahi, Bahman Ghobadi, Abolfazl Jalili and Samira Makhmalbaf , eventually leading to great success and numerous prestigious awards in international festivals all over the world, and a global recognition of Iranian cinema.