An Iranian film
On the country's
censorship laws (1/2)
Iran / cinema -
How does censorship work in Iran? In the past decade, at least 25
films have been banned in Iran, for a variety of
film industry is one of the most respected in the world and wins dozens of
international prizes each year. However, before they are released, films
produced in Iran must go in front of the state censorship board. We spoke with
Iranian director Abdolreza
Kahani to find out the real deal about making movies in a
The FRANCE 24 Observers team is publishing a two-part interview about
censorship and Iranian cinema. Stay tuned for part two.
How does censorship work in Iran? In the past decade, at least 25 films have
been banned in Iran, for a variety of reasons.
The film "Asabani
not angry", in English) by director Reza Dormishian
was banned in 2014 because the story centres on the Green movement, an
opposition movement that came to prominence in 2009. The films "Mehmoonie
Party") by director Ali Ahmadzadeh
Kahani, which are both about social tension in Iran, were also
This is an excerpt from the film "Delighted"
by Abdolreza Kahani, which follows three young girls
pursuing rich men. This film was banned in Iran, but, as the director says in
this tweet: “I wanted to show you a tiny excerpt from my
"To get authorisation to film in Iran, you need
to go through several steps” -- Abdolreza
However, it’s not just overtly political films that
are affected by censorship in Iran. In reality, censors scrutinise the whole
industry-- down to even the tiniest elements of a scene or screenplay. It’s a
complex system, but director Abdolreza
Kahani — who has won numerous international prizes — has dealt with
it enough to know the ropes. Some of his films have been either partially or
completely banned by the board.
There are multiple
steps to getting authorisation to film in Iran. First, you have to submit a
complete screenplay to the examination commission at the Ministry of
Culture and Islamic Guidance. The members of this commission read
the screenplay to check that there is nothing that is overtly problematic in it.
If there is a “problem”, they request modifications to the text
or just delete the section themselves. They can also decide to throw out the
Once we get this initial authorisation, then we
can start filming. When we finish up the filming, another commission examines
the film to make sure that we respected all regulations and that what we made
follows the screenplay that we submitted. They can censor different scenes or
ask us to modify them. If it is approved, then the commission gives us the
authorisation to screen it.
A lot of films are banned at this step,
including my film, "Delighted"
— even though the finished film was even more conservative than the screenplay
that had been originally approved.
This scene from the film "Gashat
Ershad" was banned in Iran because one of the actors appears totally drunk in
Even if you have those two
authorisations, you aren’t in the clear. There are a lot of Iranian films that
get all the necessary authorisations but are never screened because an ayatollah
[Editor’s note: a high-ranking member of the Shiite clergy who is an expert in
Islamic studies] publicly opposes them.
There is also a powerful and conservative group that owns multiple
cinemas in Iran. Sometimes, this group refuses to
screen films that it sees as going against its conservative
In fact, many of the films that get initial
authorisations are ultimately banned after objections from various powerful
circles. One of the most recent examples is "50
Kilos of Sour Cherries", which was only ever screened in Tehran.
It didn’t play in any other theatres across the country because of the
objections of various ayatollahs and the Basij [Editor’s note: The Basij is a paramilitary branch of the
Revolutionary Guards that is responsible for interior security. It also has a
Unfortunately, Iran has a lot of powerful
people, like influential scholars at religious universities, who can block
films. I had trouble with the police over my film "Absolutely
Tame Is a Horse". The Ministry of Culture told me that, for my next
film, I needed to get police authorisation to film in the street. That is one of
the reasons that I decided to film my next movie "By
No Reason", entirely inside.
In this tweet, director
Abdolreza Kahani writes: "The Ministry of Culture needs to
keep its promise: a year later, we are still waiting for 'Delighted'
to be released [in Iran]”. During the presidential election
in May 2017, authorities had promised to re-examine the cases of several films
banned in Iran.
These bans also apply outside of Iran. That means that
if a film is banned, we are not allowed to screen it abroad. Sometimes, films
are authorised in Iran, but authorities ban any international
I won several prizes at international festivals for my film,
After that, authorities banned me from screening my next four films abroad.
They even banned me from sending my films to
international festivals. If I had done it anyway, they would have prevented me
from making other films in Iran.
explained that Iranians were allowed to see the social problems that I highlight
in my films, but that there was no need to show them to
Earning a bad
However, the rules change depending on the
directors. Certain directors, who have close relationships with Iranian
authorities, can explore certain taboo topics — but that’s only because
authorities know that these directors will express the official point of view on
these topics. Directors who don’t question the position and
beliefs of the authorities are much more free.
In 2011, I wrote a screenplay about underground fashion shows in
Iran. My request was denied, but another filmmaker was given permission to make
a film about the same subject. When I asked why he was allowed to make the film,
the authorities told me, “He was allowed and you weren’t. We knew ahead
of time that you’d make a film impossible to screen.”
What is banned in
There are a lot of things that we
can’t show in films in Iran. Any actresses must be covered in an Islamic manner
in every scene, which results in ridiculous situations.
In Iranian films, women must
always wear a hijab, even when they are alone or with their families — even
though both sharia law and Iranian law only require women to wear a hijab when
they are around strangers.
We can’t show a man and a woman in
the same bed, even if they are completely covered and a metre apart. Actors and
actresses can’t be seen touching each other in any
Imagine if one of them is
sick. In Iranian films, when someone is injured or sick, the other person can’t
do anything but cry. We can’t show them touching each other — even though it is
such a simple, natural gesture. We also can’t show any alcohol or drugs in our
I filmed "We Have
Time” in France. There are several scenes
that show people who aren’t Iranian drinking, dancing and touching each other.
Authorities in Iran asked me to cut out all of those scenes. If I had done that,
I would have lost 20 minutes from my film — and it would have turned into a
short film. I didn’t do it, but that meant that I was not allowed to screen
The Iranian comedy "Dracula" is one striking example of censorship in
Iran. In certain scenes, the actors apparently looked too sexy and the women
were wearing too much make-up. In another scene, a man running for public office
appeared to be a drug addict. The censorship board cut out 13 minutes of the
film but afterwards it was still released in Iran.
The story of
a man and his wife
In my film "Absolute Rest”, I asked the
wife of one of the actors to appear in the film so that I could film her
touching him a few times. However, the examination commission asked me to cut
the scene. I explained to them that the actress was the real-life wife of the
Their response was, “Okay, but
the public doesn’t know that.” We
ended up adding a message at the beginning of the film that says “The woman in
the film is the real-life wife of the actor” and it was only after that that we
were allowed to keep the scene. People made fun of the message, saying “Who
cares?” In any case, we weren’t able to show viewers the real relationship
between these two people.
Iranian authorities permitted a
scene where a man touches a woman in the film "Absolute Rest" on the condition that the director
add a written explanation at the start of the film explaining that the actress
was the real-life wife of the actor.
Religious figures always have to be
We also aren’t allowed to show any religious
figure in a negative light. They can’t be anything other than a completely good
In my film "By
No Reason”, for example, there is a female religious figure who,
according to the examination commission, isn’t a nice person. But, in my films,
I don’t make my characters black or white, I want them to be realistic. "You need to change it, you can’t show a religious woman who isn’t
lovely; otherwise, it is anti-religious propaganda,” they told me.
According to Abdolreza
Kahani, addressing societal issues like prostitution or any form of
corruption goes way beyond just crossing the red line established by
In the last 40 years, Iranian authorities have clamped down on several films
because they were about taboo topics. That’s the case for director Jafar
Panahi’s film "Offside",
which tells the story of a group of young girls who are
arrested for trying to go see a men’s football match, which women are forbidden
Article written with
Alijani Ershad , Journaliste