Toast of Tehran

The Iranian production industry is split at present with film and television experiencing varying degrees of success. Digital Studio takes a closer look at these disparities and the success that the Iranian Diaspora has enjoyed abroad.
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The Iranian production industry is split at present with film and television experiencing varying degrees of success. Digital Studio takes a closer look at these disparities and the success that the Iranian Diaspora has enjoyed abroad.

For many actors, writers and directors, TV offers a more accessible route into production and an excellent platform to showcase your talent without jeopardising the hefty sums of money invested in feature film production.

However, the TV landscape in Iran is dominated by state broadcaster Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and some critics say that its use of airtime is not always conducive with the work that creative minds in Iran would like to follow.

"From a purely technical point of view, I absolutely believe that the domestic Iranian TV industry has the know how, competent staff and trained crew as well as all the necessary infrastructure to provide modern satellite and online broadcasting," says Darius Kadivar, an Iranian film and media journalist.

"However their programming is heavily propaganda-oriented both in content and form."

In the meantime, Iranian cinema has enjoyed success at home and abroad. With the annual Fajr International Film Festival (FIFF) set for its twenty-seventh outing next year, the event is one of the most established film festivals in the Middle East.

One of the festival's big success stories this year was The Song of Sparrows. The domestically-produced film was shot on location in Tehran and produced on home ground as well.

Director Majid Majidi (Iran's only Oscar nominated director) won the best director award at the festival and leading man Reza Najie won best actor at the prestigious Berlinale Film Festival beating off competition from Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis.

Winners of the festival's Best Film and Best Screenplay awards (So Simple and Child of the Earth respectively) were also selected for the Cannes Film Market.

The FIFF is organised by the Farabi Cinema Foundation (FCF) and it is this organisation that is at the heart of much of its success.

The FCF was founded in 1983 as a department of the Ministry of Islamic Guidance which begs the question as to why one government body, the IRIB is thought by some to be stifling quality TV production while another, FCF is enjoying continued and growing success.

In August this year, the organisation announced that there was a staggering 89 films in production or pre-production including 10 simultaneous shoots and another 10 in the cutting room.

It is difficult to blame IRIB for the perceived shortcomings of the Iranian TV production industry.

With 13,000 employees and a world service that includes 27 different languages from German to Japanese, it is easy to see how such a monolithic organisation could smother any commercial opposition.

However, the state broadcaster has launched several initiatives such as the Soroush Multimedia Corporation (SMC), which have had very positive effects on the industry.

In recent years, the SMC has moved away from its initial mandate as the commercial and publicity arm of the IRIB with the focus now on three distinct areas namely, commercial, technical and cultural.

 

Breaking the language barrier

MBC announced plans in the summer to launch a channel dubbed in Farsi in acknowledgement not only of the Iranian market but also of the large number of Iranians based across the Middle East.

BBC has long planned to launch a dedicated Persian TV channel to go alongside its existing Farsi language online and radio services.

IRIB has also announced its intention to, almost, return the favour.

At the time of the announcement Mohammad Sarafraz, the head of IRIB's World Service (pictured), said the plan to launch a TV channel was going through the process of ratification.

"Many people in the Middle East are willing to watch films and TV series free from violence and corruption typical of American movies," stated Sarafraz.

The Iranian official noted that no name has been chosen for the Arabic-language TV channel yet, adding that it would only be broadcast in the Middle East region.
 

As well as producing radio and TV adverts (Soroush is the most prolific producer of these in Iran), it also represents thirty different equipment manufacturers and has launched a wide range of training initiatives covering a spectrum of production skills.

SMC began by offering short vocational courses covering specific topics such as sound engineering and film editing but has since followed the same path as many other industry training institutes in the Middle East by pursuing the provision of higher education courses accredited, in this instance, by the Iranian Ministry of Science, Research and Technology.

Despite this apparently vibrant domestic film scene, Kadivar points to one episode in Iran's history that created a geographical split among the country's talented media professionals, which remains apparent today.

"After the revolution, many former employees of the National Iranian Radio and Television (NIRT) were forced into exile due to their connections with the former political and cultural establishment.

Most went to create their own satellite TV channels with more or less success in the US - California, in particular," says Kadivar.

Many of these channels, and their diaspora presenters have since become popular in Iran itself, according to Kadivar.

"The two most followed talk shows on Voice of America (Persian) are also available online, which means many Iranians can gain access to these," he says.

This success is not limited exclusively to TV. A significant number of Iranians across the production spectrum is replicating the success of the country's domestic film industry within Hollywood.

There are a great many similarities between the Iranian production industry and its competitors in the Middle East.

Many countries including the UAE and Jordan are currently pursuing the same strategies to promote their respective film industries that Iran, through the Farabi Cinema Foundation, has been employing for some time.

FCF has been arranging international co-productions, organising film festivals and financing the necessary technical infrastructure decades before the buzz began around some of its neighbours.

Given the success Iranian film professionals have enjoyed at home and abroad, the outlook for their new competitors is good. The challenge now is for Iran to replicate this success in its domestic TV industry.

Breaking Hollywood

Iran boasts several Oscar nominations with Iranian cast and crew working on high profile projects. Below is a selection of the Iranian influence at work in Hollywood and on some of the most widely syndicated television programmes produced in the US.

Cast

• Shohreh Aghdashloo (Oscar Nominated for House of Sand and Fog)

• Anthony Azizi (Commander in Chief)

• Shaun Toub (Crash, Iron Man, The Kite Runner)

• Bahar Soomekh (Saw III & IV, Crash)

• Adrian Pasdar (Heroes, Top Gun),

• Omid Djalili (Gladiator, The Mummy, Spy Game)

• Sarah Shahi (The L-Word)

Crew

• Reza Badiyi, Director (Mission Impossible, Baywatch, Six Million Dollar Man)

• Bob Yari, Producer (The Illusionist, Matador)

• Mark Amin, Producer (Saw, The Prince & Me)

• Darius Khondji, Director of Photography (Evita, The Beach, Se7en)

• Hossein Amini, Screenwriter (Oscar nominated for Wings of Doves)

• Cyrus Nowrasteh, Screenwriter (The Path to 9/11, Into the West)

• Kami Asgar, Sound editor (Oscar Nominated for Apocalypto)

• Stuntman Darren Shahlavi (300)

• Habib Zargarpour, visual effects artist (Jumanji, Star Wars: Episode 1, The Bourne Identity)
 

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