Art And Culture

Screening Foreign Films a Long-Term Challenge

Screening Foreign Films  a Long-Term ChallengeScreening Foreign Films  a Long-Term Challenge

By reopening its cinematheque, the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Arts has joined the few cinema halls screening foreign films.

A cinematheque is a typically small motion-picture theater that specializes in historically important, experimental, avant-garde, or art-house films. Often part of a university or private archive, a cinematheque may have only one screen, but larger ones have multiple screens.

A common form of cinema hall, cinematheques in many countries screen movies with no mass public audience.

Few cinematheques exist in Tehran. They are not necessarily small and are ordinary halls dedicated to screening foreign films.

Since the past two years two cinema halls in Tehran are screening two late night shows of foreign films, classic or new, Hollywood or European productions: Kourosh Cineplex in western Tehran and Pardis Qolhak in the north of the capital.

However, Iran cinema was not always unfriendly towards foreign movies. A brief review of the history of foreign cinema in Iran reveals the regulations vis-à-vis foreign movies in different time periods.

 Before Revolution

Prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution cinemas in Iran shared their halls between Iranian and foreign films (mostly from Hollywood and Bollywood) for decades.

The younger generation may not remember but seniors recall watching the best movies of yesteryears in cinema halls.

Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Godfather’ (starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino), ‘The Exorcist’, William Wyler’s ‘Roman Holiday’ (Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn), ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson), Vittorio De Sica’s ‘After the Fox’ (Peter Sellers), ‘True Grit’ (John Wayne), Alfred Hitchkock’s ‘Vertigo’, David Lean’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (Peter O’Toole, Anthony Quinn), ‘For Whom the Bells Toll’ (Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman), Sholay (Amitabh Bachchan), ‘Sangam’ (Raj Kapoor) were screened in cinema halls across the country and were very popular.

Although many sections of the society disapproved such cinema “for their negative influence” on the audiences, foreign movies were tolerated and the trend continued for years.

Sparse population, high number of cinema halls and lack of entertainment media (unlike today’s many TV channels, Internet, home video entertainment, video game consoles, etc.) put cinema at the top of the list.


After the revolution there was a transformation in the nature of films screened in both form and content.

A new generation of cineastes, along with a few from the days bygone, blew fresh air into home productions. Ethical issues replaced the superficialities of the earlier films.

For about 20 years after the revolution, although theaters continued to screen foreign movies, they were few in number. Only a handful of foreign films made it to the big screen in a few cinemas across the country. And most of them were censored in accordance with domestic rules and regulations.

During this time, only well-known Hollywood productions (no more Bollywood) were screened once in a while, mostly in Tehran.

‘The Message’ (Anthony Quinn), Kevin Costner’s ‘Dances with Wolves’, Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘The Sacrifice’ and ‘Nostalgia’, Alejandro Amenabar’s ‘The Others’ (Nicole Kidman), Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’, Martin Scorsese’s ‘Gangs of New York’ (Leonardo Di Caprio, Daniel Day-Lewis) and ‘The Grudge’ were among the films with limited release in Tehran.


The journey of foreign films saw a rough patch during the previous administration (2005-2013). Cultural officials disallowed foreign productions on the ground that they were damaging to domestic film industry, and also cited lack of local interest. Moreover, content of the movies were also in contrast with Islamic values and ethics and thus inappropriate.  

However the decision did not address the problems of local producers and led to empty cinema halls. So suggestions were made to reintroduce foreign films to ignite people’s enthusiasm to fill halls and help the cinema industry, but in practice it didn’t happen. Until two years ago.

 Second Chance

The screening of quality foreign films, although censored, in two cinematheques (Kourosh and Qolhak) in the past two years has proved successful. They not only do not affect local production but cinema houses once again began attracting in large numbers people who had long forgotten about going to the big screen.

Now that the cinematheque of Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art has resumed its work, showing classic movies from Germany, Belgium and Hong Kong, it can be expected that with the assistance of the present cinema officialdom, more theaters across the country will screen foreign productions (new or classic) in a bid to draw audiences, essential to keep the cinema industry going.