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Since the 1960s, Iran has produced one of the most distinguished national cinemas in the world, and one of the most difficult to see. Subjected to rigorous censorship (both political and religious) domestically and suffering from poor distribution internationally, most of the classics of Iranian cinema are available in North America only in low-quality bootlegs and downloads—a situation that has effectively relegated this rich cinematic history to obscurity, save for those wonderful texts by dedicated Iranian film scholars that describe, discuss and analyze these inaccessible masterworks.
In preparation for the 2014 Fribourg International Film Festival in Switzerland, Artistic Director Thierry Jobin undertook to remedy this sorry state of affairs by inviting fourteen Iranian filmmakers to select their favourite films from the entire history of Iranian cinema, and then sought to present as many of these films as possible at the festival. After painstaking research, TIFF Cinematheque is proud to continue this initiative begun in Fribourg and give Toronto audiences an invaluable opportunity to see these classics of world cinema on the big screen, the way they were meant to be seen. Ranging from the 1930s to the 2000s, this series offers a vivid capsule history of Iranian cinema: its beginnings at the end of the silent era; the first Iranian New Wave of the late sixties and early seventies; the post-revolutionary Second New Wave of the eighties and nineties, which saw such filmmakers as Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and Jafar Panahi coming to international attention; and up to the present day, when Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation became the first Iranian film to win Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards and became a breakthrough critical and commercial hit around the world.
Despite the radically different cultural and political climates in which the films in this programme were made, their common motifs, techniques and themes testify to a remarkable clarity and consistency of artistic vision. Eschewing the narrative and stylistic hegemony of Hollywood, Iranian cinema has drawn upon the influence of Italian neorealism in its frequent use of non-professional actors and sensitive explorations of working-class life; the heritage of Persian literary and artistic traditions in its invocations of the allegorical and the poetic; and a domestically derived modernism in its frequent blurring of the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction.
The result has been a national cinema that is both politically engaged despite political censorship, socially conscious despite the strictures of its society, and stylistically adventurous despite its avoidance of surface flash. We hope that this series will help make these extraordinary films more widely available in North America, and give our audience a greater insight into the scope and richness of Iranian cinema.