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AN INDEPENDENT EYE: French Based Film Producer/Distributor Hengameh Panahi of Celluloid Dreams




Šimdb & photocomposition DK


"This award is meaningful because it comes from my fellow dealers in celluloid".
-Alfred Hitchcock

We often forget that so many different people are involved in the making and distribution of a film as a final product. The actors, director, and crew are obviously the most essential people to be noted first but you also have to include the producer and distributors without whom no film can be made or screened in the theaters. Being a film producer does not just require business talents, it also requires a genuine interest and good knowledge of films and all Art forms in general. A film venture is an exciting yet fragile process where interaction and trust between the director and producer can lead to great far reaching collaborations or unhappy disasters. Film history is filled with stories of difficult yet fruitful relationships between the producer and the director such as in the case of David O Selznick and Alfred Hitchcock or Darryl F. Zanuck or Albert R. Broccoli and the successive directors of the James Bond Franchise. However the old cliché of the tormented film director and the Capitalistic Producer with a " Big Cigar " has fortunately given way to a more wider range of people and personalities since the old Studio Day's. Hengameh Panahi has built a reputation as one of the shrewdest women in independent international film sales with her company, Celluloid Dreams. The Paris-based company has enjoyed a great success over the years, selling major festival hits to U.S. distributors: Francois Ozon's "Swimming Pool" to Focus Features, Sylvain Chomet's "The Triplets of Belleville" to Sony Pictures Classics and Takeshi Kitano's "Zatoichi" to Miramax. Panahi believes that the movie industry remains a man's world and is a tough place to navigate as a women. "It's still difficult," she once confessed to a film critic. "It took me years to be taken seriously."

Born in Iran, Panahi attended the Jeanne D'Arc French School in Tehran before the Revolution. French was considered as a romantic language and culture during the Shah's reign and she benefited from this dual culture. She remembers the Tehran of those days with nostalgia. Thirst for Culture was strong and thriving and Hollywood and European films were screened outdoors and everyone lived with the American Dream.

An independent Eye : Henameh Panahi founder of Celluloid Dreams

Panahi moved to Belgium when she was 12. After studying languages and journalism and working as a translator, she worked on a friend's documentary -- editing the film, writing the script, casting the voices and so on. That inspired her to start her own movie company in Belgium in 1985 (she moved to Paris in 1993). The company initially was called Celluloid Dealers -- a reference to an Alfred Hitchcock comment on the nature of moviemaking -- but the name was changed because its executives encountered too much trouble with customs officials. Panahi's guiding principle has been to follow the careers of directors whom she believes possess great potential. "We have two directors, Ozon and Kitano -- both of whom we started working with when they were unknown or at least little-known -- and have followed their work entirely," she says. She has also produced and distributed the films by such known Iranian directors as Abbas Kiarostami and Hassan Yektapanah.

With a catalogue of more than 200 films she has developed a solid relationship over the years with the directors mentioned above. Her first motto " We only distribute films we like and believe in, otherwise its very difficult to convince anyone to buy them ". Her goal is always the same : " Sell the films in as many countries as possible so that it could be seen by a large range of people from Taiwan to the Middle West".

Animated film productions co-produced and distributed
by Celluloid Dreams Š

She is also very passionate about the Art form, and believes that producers should understand that it takes time for some films to be noticed and find their audience. She regrets to lack of interest of French Producers in the international market. She feels that one of the reason's French films are not exported as much is more due to the lack of promotion and advertising. A film's budget should include the promoting and advertising costs. Each film should at least have an on set photographer, and a graphic artist who could suggest poster concepts before the film actually starts shooting and work towards the final touches during and after shooting is wrapped. She also believes in the internet as an efficient way of advertising a film through newsletters from director and film blogs and discussion forums.  

Distribution work takes a great deal of her activity but Hengameh Panahi has also been producing films through Lumen Films with such productions as Faust, Tokyo Eyes, Fast Food and more operated as producer of the Oscar Nominated film on the Palestinian Israeli conflict Paradise Now and as executive producer of the upcoming Michael Haneke's Funny Games.

She loves the idea of selling a Taiwanese film in Rumania and an Iranian film in Japan. A Japanese won't see a film in the same way as an American or Hungarian and vice versa. The challenge is that she has to adapt her sale arguments to each culture. That also requires learning about other cultures and bridging them with that of the films she wishes to distribute in a given country.   

Ironically but not surprisingly she is now also promoting and distributing the latest French Production, the Cannes Jury Prize Awardee Persepolis directed by fellow compatriot Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud. Hengameh Panahi has come a long way from her care free and yet formative years dreaming of films and Hollywood on Iranian TV before the Revolution and at her local film theater in Tehran.






Author's notes:


Official Website of Celluloid Dreams


Recommended Readings:


MAGIC IN THE MAKING: Marjane Satrapi's Cinephilic Choice for Persepolis by Darius KADIVAR

Sultan of my Heart: Monika Jalili and Noorsaaz's remembrance of things Past...  by Darius KADIVAR


Tony Nourmand's Golden Eye by Darius KADIVAR


Persian Golden Boys in Hollywood by Darius KADIVAR


ASGAR FOR AN OSCAR: Iranian Sound Editor nominated for an Oscar by Darius KADIVAR


On Iran and French Cinema:

Iranian Pioneers in French New Wave Cinema by Darius KADIVAR

Anicée (ALVINA) Shahmanesh: France's Sex Icon of the 1970's by Darius KADIVAR

On Iran and Italian Cinema:

Excellent interview and Great Photos of Iranian filmmaker Parvin Ansary with Italian Stars of 50's and 60's.

The Last Colony : An interview with Film director Parvin Ansary by Brian Appleton (



About the Author:
Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant.

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