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Khamenei Explains His Views on Art and Cinema to Ammar Organizers: Rooz Talks with Filmmaker Mohammad Nourizad

By Mohammad Reza Yazdanpanah, Rooz Online

More details have emerged about the Tuesday meeting that Iran’s supreme leader had with the organizers of the Ammar People’s Film Festival, an event held in Tehran last week. The speeches and exchanges at the meeting are noteworthy.

Among the speakers at the meeting with ayatollah Khamenei were Hassan Abbasi, a theoretician of Hezbollah who claims that the New York Times has labeled him the Hendry Kissinger of the Islamic world, film director Masoud Dehnamaki who is also an active member of Hezbollah, TV director Nader Talebzadeh, Saeed Ghasemi, a usual speaker at all Ansare Hezbollah gatherings who is also sometimes called a general in the Iran-Iraq war, and film director Abolghasem Talebi who has claimed that he made the Ghaladhaye Tala movie against the Green Movement on orders of Ali Khamenei.

Iran’s supreme leader ayatollah Khamenei was flanked by Vahid Jalili who is the director of the Daftare Motaleat Jebhe Farhangi center sitting on his left while Farajollah Salahshoor, a TV director who had just a few days ago claimed that he was the person who had set fire to a number of cinema houses before the 1979 revolution sat on his right.

The visitors to Khamenei’s house all have a record of fanatical support for their host and adverse hostility, animosity and even a history of nasty verbal attacks on those who have aired the slightest criticism or disapproval of the leader. About three years ago, these individuals launched their own film festival calling it the Ammar Film Festival and announced its goal to be the introduction and advancement of “religious art and the cinema of the Islamic revolution”.

Commenting on Ammar, Mohammad Nourizad, a writer and film maker who until 2009 was himself a supporter of ayatollah Khamenei told Rooz that the claim that the organizers of this festival make that the gathering is a “people’s” event is “a complete lie.” According to him, while this group and those who are behind it proclaim themselves to be a people’s group, in reality the group is made up of individuals who have privileged access to the country’s “cinema theaters, the national state run-radio and television service and a huge budget from the government,” something that no ordinary person or even independent professionals have access to. Nourizad told Rooz that he knows every single member of this group and those who are in charge of the operation, and asks, “how could these people call themselves “a people’s group” when a large section of the population has absolutely no place in or access to them while the group remains open exclusively to a very small and special group of people?”

Jihad and Sexual Issues

But the views of such critics as Nourizad are unequivocally different from those of the Iran’s supreme leader of Iran regarding his supporters at the film festival. Ayatollah Khamenei met with the Ammar organizers and repeatedly lauded their work during the visit, encouraging them to continue their efforts. He told them that they were in a “jihad.” “The approach to Islamic art and religious cinema must be a long-term one with detailed planning, hope in the future and the appropriate use of the instrument of art for the greatest impact,” he said. He stressed on the need for planning and the “creation of think tanks for encouraging the youth and new talents in these fields.” He called on those who were “religiously dedicated, revolutionary and specialists” in cinema to engage in the industry. But he also cautioned that even these individuals had first to be “immunized” which he said was possible only through continuous connection with God and submission to Him.”

Ayatollah Khamenei’s official website which posted a report of this meeting did not identify what exactly in cinema must these “pious” individuals be “immunized” from. But one of the participants did throw some light on this. Mohammad Mehdi Khaleghi, whom Tribune website has called a “revolutionary documentarian”, wrote that ayatollah Khamenei presented the presence of “sexual issues” as “normal and natural” in cinema because in his view cinema was “a Western phenomenon.”

Many of the individuals who visited Iran’s supreme leader on this occasion view independent and non-governmental cinema to be morally “corrupt.” Farah Salahshoor for example had previously labeled some independent cineaste as “whores” and “traitors,” deserving to be executed. In his speech on February 20th ayatollah Khamenei spoke of the role that university centers had to play in affecting cinema and media in the country and said that “reforming this field required reforming the entry points (criteria) to these fields.”

Nourizad points out that the Iranian regime has launched Ammar because they have “failed to produce something that they call revolutionary art and so feel bankrupt.”

Anger Towards Lincoln

As reported on the website of Iran’s supreme leader, in his talk to the organizers of Ammar, ayatollah Khamenei denounced “anti-Iranian political films and the giving of awards and prizes to anti-Iranian films.” He also strongly criticized “Western art institutions such as Hollywood for not allowing Iranian anti-Zionist films to participate at film festivals.” He said this denial indicated as “clear evidence that art and politics are intertwined in America and the West.” As reported by Mohammad Mehdi Khaleghi, the ayatollah specifically named two current movies, Argo and Lincoln, both widely acclaimed releases.

According to Khaleghi, “Ayatollah Khamenei believed from the day he became the supreme leader that we had to believe in ourselves in art and refrain from looking at foreign film festivals.” He further said that Khamenei had opined that what was surprising about the movie Argo was that it had not been made much earlier, not that it had just recently been made. Iran’s leader also said that Abraham Lincoln was among America’s weakest presidents. “I have not seen this film called Lincoln and will never see it. Probably they have turned him into a hero in the movie,” Khamenei said.

The majority of Americans have a different view and sees the sixteenth American president as one of three most outstanding figures of their country. He ended slavery and kept the union. He is also attributed with being among the staunchest supporters of freedom, democracy and human and individual values, and has had a great influence on American values.

Art Has a Definition

Official and unofficial reports of the meeting between Khamenei and Ammar organizers indicate that the country’s leader strongly criticized the non presentation of revolutionary movies made in the Islamic republic at film festivals. Nourizad pointed out that what is important to “serious foreign film festivals is art, something that has no place in religious and revolutionary cinema. This type of cinema has no audience at the global level.” But while art has a definition, Iran’s leaders have unfortunately taken control of art and now want to forcefully inject their interpretations of faith into it,” he said.

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