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Iran: Tehran Bans Movies That Promote Nihilism And Feminism

(RFE/RL) Iran has banned foreign films promoting secularism, feminism, unethical behavior, drug abuse, or violence. The ban was approved by the Supreme Cultural Revolutionary Council headed by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. It is still not clear how strictly the ban will be enforced and how it will affect the film industry inside the country.

Prague, 24 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The reason for the issuing of the new ruling and it’s timing is not clear. Western movies, deemed decadent and morally corrupt, have always been banned in the Islamic Republic.

The ruling, issued last week by the Supreme Cultural Revolutionary Council, bans the distribution and screening of movies that degrade "the true culture of Islamic societies" and feature propaganda for "the world oppression," a term used by the Iranian establishment to designate the United States.

Forbidden are also foreign films, which deny the existence of God and promotes feminist, liberal, or nihilist ideas and alcoholism.

Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, one of Iran’s leading female filmmakers, told Radio Farda that the ruling contains nothing new. "In general, the policies that have been applied till now have been in the same line, now maybe it’s with a harsher view, but I really couldn’t find anything new in the directive," she said. "These are issues that have always been sensitive."

"Or there is the question whether a film can really promote feminism or not. In fact, it means that we want to defend a patriarchic cinematography when it comes to the screening of foreign films." -- Motamedi

Ali Reza Motamedi, a film writer in Tehran, said it was expected that the election of ultraconservative Mahmud Ahmadinejad would lead to stricter rules on the screening of foreign films. But still he said the new ban comes as a surprise.

"Many people were surprised when they heard about it," Motamedi said. "I think maybe it was a move by the members of the new government to show that [they are in control]. They wanted to have a ruling in what was one of their first meetings. I don’t see any other reason for that, the ban is so [unprofessional] and there are so many [problems] in it that I don’t think it was issued after much thought."

Reportedly, Iran’s culture minister and the head of national broadcasting were charged with enforcing the ban.

Motamedi believes that it will be difficult to enforce the ruling because it raises many questions. "The concepts that are mentioned in the ban such as nihilism and secularism are so general and in the cinema industry they are so abstract that it is not easy to determine through such a ruling whether a film promotes secularism of nihilism," he said. "Or there is the question whether a film can really promote feminism or not. In fact, it means that we want to defend a patriarchic cinematography when it comes to the screening of foreign films."

Western movies are very popular in Iran, where entertainments are relatively limited. Most people rely on satellite televisions and the black market to watch the latest Hollywood releases.

In recent years, more Western films have been shown in cinemas, but scenes featuring sex, alcohol, or nudity have been censored. Recently some Hollywood productions such as "Terminator 3," "Kill Bill," and "The Aviator" have been screened in a few cinemas.

Motamedi told RFE/RL that the new regulations will not have a big impact on the screening of foreign movies in Iran. "Films that are being screened here are either [moral] films from Hong Kong or India," he said. "European movies have not been screened for a long time. American movies that are being shown are like for example 'Fahrenheit 9/11' -- that was screened in Iran during the U.S. presidential elections because it is anti-Bush. The other American movies that are shown are, in fact movies that tell a story, like Christopher Nolan’s 'Insomnia.'"

During his presidential campaign, Ahmadinejad promised to confront "Western cultural invasion". On 8 October he said he would support measures that would strengthen and spread Koranic culture in Iranian society.

Some are concerned that the new order could signal the beginning of an era of more restrictive cultural policies in the Islamic Republic. During the eight-year term of former President Mohammad Khatami, restrictions were eased to some degree.

Bani-Etemad said it will depend to a great extent on how the order will be interpreted. "The issue is different interpretations that result from such cases; we are always facing this problem," she said. "As I said, I don’t see anything new in it. Maybe as time goes by we will see to what degree the interpretation of these words and cases will bring new limitations." She added that it is highly unlikely that the new ban will affect films made in Iran.

(Radio Farda correspondent Nazi Azima contributed to this report.)

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.