TEHRAN—As Iranian films and actors compete this weekend at Cannes, attention is turning toward the country’s thriving independent cinema sector, which is succeeding despite tough regulations.
Religious, political and cultural red lines represent obstacles to filmmakers and actors in the Islamic republic. Scripts must be pre-approved by the state.
Most learn to live with the restrictions but some leave the country, seeking more artistic freedom.
“The Salesman” by Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi is challenging for the prestigious Palme d’Or while “Varoonegi” (Inversion), directed by Behnam Behzadi, is competing in the sidebar section “Un Certain Regard”.
Farhadi’s latest effort has already generated interest from US distributors, The New York Times quoted French co-producer Alexandre Mallet-Guy as saying.
This year in Cannes, two Iranian actresses compete for best actress: self-exiled Golshifteh Farahani in “Paterson”, by the award-winning US director Jim Jarmusch, and Taraneh Alidoosti in Farhadi’s “The Salesman”.
The momentum is partly due to Farhadi’s talent, most notably marked by his best foreign film Academy Award in 2012 for “A Separation”, a dark but touching tale of a family breakup set in Tehran.
“With the large global distribution of this film Farhadi gave a great visibility to Iranian cinema, that in fact started long before him,” Agnes Devictor, a professor at the Sorbonne in Paris, specialising in Iranian cinema, told AFP.
“A Separation” won a Golden Globe in the same category and his follow-up, “The Past”, set in France, was nominated for the Palme d’Or in 2013.
Farhadi is not alone in gaining accolades. In 2015, “Nahid”, Ida Panahandeh’s debut feature, won the promising future prize in Un Certain Regard.
Dozens of cinemas screened the film in France, Spain and Greece.
Distribution companies such as the France-based Noori Pictures, headed by Katayoon Shahabi, have played a major role in bringing Iranian films to a wider audience.
Shahabi, a “lioness” who has become “the embodiment of independent film abroad”, according to Devictor, is among the eight jurors for Cannes 2016.