Iranian media is making a big deal out of a cultural exchange visit by Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; actress Annette Bening; writer director Frank Pierson and producer Bill Horberg. Also present: Documentarian James Longley, writer-director Phil Robinson, AMPAS Special Events Programmer and Exhibitions Curator Ellen Harrington, and former Universal Pictures Chairman Tom Pollock.

Academy spokeswoman Leslie Unger tells AFP that the visit is "completely private initiative for educational and creative exchange and with no political agenda." 

But it's all but impossible to view the visit without the context of President Obama's desire to change the nature of the U.S. and Iranian relationship, signaling that the administration would be ready for talks with Tehran. I've already some comparisons to the so-called "soft-diplomacy" preceded Richard Nixon's opening of relations with China in 1972, but that may be a bit of a stretch on a number of levels, not the least of which is Iran's nuclear ambitions. It's also important to note the presence of Longley, who made the critically acclaimed doc "Iraq in Fragments" and who has been at work in Iran on a new project about U.S.-Iranian relations.

According to CBS News, "Mohammad Mehdi Asgarpour, managing director of Iran’s House of Cinema, said that the group will hold seminars this week to discuss filmmaking subjects like screenwriting, directing, acting, production, documentary filmmaking, marketing and distribution.

"The group will also visit the Cinema Museum in Tehran, a film school, and attend a press conference on March 7, Asgarpour said."

Iran has been hostile to many Hollywood films, including "300," that they claim carry a political agenda against the country and its history.

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