Protests spark new Iranian filmmakers

Internet allows youths to document troubled nation

Iranian cinema may just have found its next generation of filmmakers.

With the country’s hardline authorities cracking down on foreign media outlets in the wake of the disputed June 12 presidential elections, it has largely fallen to Iran’s youthful population to chronicle the mass protests on the streets of Tehran and other cities. Social networking sites like Twitter and user-generated content shot on mobile phones have maintained the flow of information and images around the world.

And, reflecting the rapid sweep of these new media tools and the long-simmering hopes of Iran’s established filmmakers, the impromptu conversion of hundreds of young Iranians into documentarians is being championed by established helmers.

“This is a cultural revolution and an Internet revolution,” says director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who has been an active opposition voice. “All the students have become filmmakers now on the streets with their mobile phones.”

During the 1980s and 1990s, Iranian filmmakers such as Makhmalbaf, Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi and Majid Majidi offered viewers outside Iran a valuable window onto life in the country; for their efforts, they were feted at film fests around the world.

Recent years, however, have seen Iranian cinema’s star dim on the international stage as fewer of the country’s films were selected for the Cannes, Venice and Berlin festivals.

That reduction was due to a number of reasons, including the Iranian’s government’s dwindling investment and increasing restrictions on the Iranian film biz. Some observers suggest Iranian filmmakers also lost some of their creative spark.

Now, the fallout from the recent election — in which incumbent prexy Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared to have a received 62% of the vote vs. Mir Hossein Mousavi, leading to accusations of fraud and vote-rigging — may inspire a new wave of Iranian filmmakers energized by the power of the moving image.

It also may help get the more seasoned helmers’ creative juices flowing again. A number of leading Iranian helmers have been visible in their support of Moussavi and the opposition movement.

“The filmmakers are standing with the people,” says Makhmalbaf, who currently lives in political exile in Paris. “My daughter Hana has just finished making a film in Tehran about the elections and the demonstrations. There are many others like her.”