Death of a Filmmaker & The End of an Era in Iranian Cinema
Ali Mosleh, persian independent Thursday, April 6, 2023
Kiumars Pourahmad was one of the successful examples of Iranian 'professional' cinema, a storyteller who kept standing as far away from the ideological concerns of post-revolution Iran as possible.
Throughout his long cinematic career, he'd tried to find a way to continue this professional path.
Pourahmad's death in the first days after the end of Iranian New Year (Nowruz holiday), caused a great shock to Iranian cinema society and filmmakers. Regardless of how and why this allegedly "self-inflicted" death happened, the very importance of this incident is interpreted as a symbol of the impasse that dominates Iranian cinema, and that has been noticed by many filmmakers immediately.
Perhaps this was the reason why Manijeh Hekmat, another veteran Iranian film producer and director - who recently announced that she was banned from filmmaking, trading and leaving Iran and that she had reached the "end of the line" - in response to Pourahmad's death wrote that any attempt to try to find a small "quantum of light" and a "glimmer of hope" has resulted in nothing but "regret".
Abolhassan Davoodi, the former chairman of the Iranian House of Cinema’s Board of Directors and the director of "Hezarpa (Centipede)", the best-selling film of 2011, warns in a note that the "rulers" of Iranian cinema intend to eliminate all "concerned thinkers and workers" of Iranian cinema and emphasized that Pourahmad's death can at the same time be "dangerous and constructive" for other filmmakers.
Alireza Davoudenjad, an experienced pre-revolution movie director who had several collaborations with Pourahmad, talks about suppression, censorship and inciting job insecurity caused by the "enemies of cinema", which eventually led to the death of Pourahmad, as one of the most important "figures involved in the revival of post-revolution Iranian cinema".
A review of the widespread reactions among filmmakers shows that most of them, in addition to sadness and mourning and being surprised by the death of Kiumars Pourahmad, are also angered and worried about the future of Iranian cinema; the big gap between the people and the government that was created after the nationwide protests that started last September, accompanied by the vast majority of filmmakers' showing strong support for the protests and the sharp and violent reaction from the security forces, has darkened the future of Iranian cinema.
Kiumars Pourahmad was one of the successful examples of 'professional' cinema in Iran, a storyteller who kept standing as far away from the ideological concerns of post-revolution Iran as possible; a filmmaker who, unlike many of his contemporaries, did not see the need to prove his "brotherhood" feelings to the Islamic Republic and often worked with producers from the private sector in iranian cinema. Even his cooperation with the national television, which resulted in the production of two successful tv series "Majid's Stories" and "The Clue", was not considered as a sign of propaganda in favour of the regime, and that was the reason why these television series became so popular in the country.
But on the other hand, Pourahmad had no intention to confront the ruling system as much as he could or to shout out his political and social concerns in his films. This was the reason why he was able to last more than four decades in Iranian cinema; at the International Fajr Film Festiva in 2022, his last film was present at the request of his producer. However, by publishing a text, he called it "the festival of several special organizations"and by announcing that he will not participate in this event due to the nationwide public protests in the country, he joined the group of boycotters.
Throughout his career, Pourahmad tried to find a way to continue this professional path. As a result, he can be considered one of the important figures of "Middle cinema" in Iran ;a cinema that is neither desirable to the ruling cultural system in Iran, nor is it radical enough to be removed.Storytelling without sloganeering, moving between different movie genres, trying to entertain and giving priority to the audience and being popular were part of the characteristics of this "middle" Iranian cinema, which found its way especially since the 1990s with the temporary strengthening of the private sector.
This is the reason why Pourahmad and other famous figures of this cinema made their most successful works in the 1990's and 2000's. Except for the two TV series mentioned above, "Strange Sisters" and "The Longest Night" were two important examples of the successes in his career made in those two decades.
But from the second half of 2001 and with the gradual death of "Reforms" project after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's coming to power, on the one hand, we had the body of Iranian cinema, followed by the movement of "Middle cinema", coming into confrontation with more censorship and restrictions, and on the other hand, we had the demands of Iranian society that had changed. Although Iranian cinema passed the 2009 elections safely and apparently learned how to survive during Ahmadinejad's second term, the bigger changes that were the result of Ahmadinejad's eight-year presidency and the regime's malfunctioning leadership also affected cinema in 2010s.
The gradual entry of the military and security forces into the iranian cinema industry in the form of institutions, such as the Owj Arts and Media Organization, and the overflow of contaminated and suspicious capitals into the industry resulting from embezzlement and widespread economic corruption in the country, practically grounded or changed the nature of what was known as the "private sector" in Iranian cinema.
In this decade, the concept of a professional producer, who produced the next film with the income obtained from a film in general release and home theater network, became meaningless and investment in cinema industry became possible either with the budget of government institutions or using investors who suddenly entered the cinema industry and home theater, whose capitals were of unknown origin.
At the same time, the censorship imposed by the Ministry of Guidance and other governmental institutions intensified, and the new government of Hassan Rouhani, which was supported by the body of Iranian cinema - not only did not slow down the blade of censorship, but gave it more intelligent dimensions, and in the eight years that Rouhani was the president, Iran's social cinema became more deficient and futile than before.
In such a situation, it became more difficult for the "Middle cinema" filmmakers active in the 1990s and 2000s, such as Kiumars Pourahmad, and they could not adapt to the new conditions. He made only three films in the entire 2010s, none of which were successful in the new equations of Iranian cinema, and four years after his last film in that decade, he directs "The Case is Open" in 2022.
On the other hand, Pourahmad's social and political views in recent years, in form of interviews, signing statements and letters showed that he is tired of the conditions prevailing in Iran. But there was still no direct reflection of these views in his films. Of course, in "Blade and Termeh" he tried to reflect the confusion and wandering of the young generation, but it did not succeed either in terms of story and cinematography, or in attracting the audience.
The bitter death of Kiumars Pourahmad in the first days after the end of Iranian New Year "Nowruz" holiday 1402/2023, symbolically shows that taking the "middle" path in the domain of Iranian culture and society has reached a dead end.The conflict between people's demands and the ruling style of the rulers, which resulted in the longest ever protest uprising in the history of the Islamic Republic in 2022, completely changed the situation of Iranian cinema and its filmmakers.
The initial reaction of the government - which was revealed in the Fajr Film Festival - is to throw money at small and large cultural, security and military institutions to produce custom-made and even anti-people products, and as a result we see the cultural authorities trying to artificially keep alive the cycle of production and supply in Iranian cinema with popular comedies and some futile and seemingly socially concerned films.
Even in the short term, there is no prospect for the activities of filmmakers belonging to the generation of Kiumars Pourahmad and his contemporaries, and this fear and concern can be traced in the hearts of moviemakers after his death. The fear of completely falling into an artificial space where only custom-made and popular products irrelevant to and with no concern for the social developments in the country can survive.