President Hassan Rouhani has asked Iranian filmmakers and cultural officials to work together to bring people back to movie theaters. "Bringing back people who have turned away from the cinema is the most essential task of our officials and cineastes today," he said in a message sent to the inauguration ceremony of the 32nd Fajr International Film Festival, which opened at Tehran's Vahdat Hall on Friday evening.
"Today, after what has happened to art and culture over the past years, I see my country's cinema gloomy and depressed," he stated in the message that was read by Minster of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ali Jannati.
"But now, a new era has dawned and it is time to leave behind whatever happened to cinema previously, although we shall never forget the lessons," he added.
Rouhani asked Iranian filmmakers to show the bright spots of the truth beside the darkness of reality in their works.
"In response to the filmmaker who thinks not only about a national award but also about a big international success and says, 'Let me be free so that I may travel from east to west in the world with my films.' I say: Bon voyage! But promise to receive your first award in your homeland. I say to him or her: Be free, and tell the realities fairly, but don't forget about the truths either," he stated.
Rouhani also announced that his office plans to present a prize entitled the National Award of the Presidential Office annually to a filmmaker promoting Iranian cinema. There was great applause when Jannati finished reading Rouhani's message.
The ceremony, which was hosted by Farzad Hassani, went on with the honoring of actress Homa Rusta, actor Mehdi Hashemi and sound recorder Jahangir Mirshekari with lifetime achievement awards.
A video directed by Mohammad-Ali Sajjadi showing Rusta speaking about her childhood and acting career was screened before she appeared on stage.
Actor Reza Kianian and director Rakhshan Bani-Etemad accompanied Rusta to the stage.
"I want to thank my dear colleagues Reza and Rakhshan and all my compatriots who have made me hopeful about life with their kind insights and smiles," Rusta said.
Hashemi, 67, appeared on stage along with three veteran extras Mohammad Zolfaqari, Shamseddin Dowlatshahi and Gholamhossein Mirzaii.
Actor Mehdi Hashemi received a lifetime achievement award
"I realized that I would not able to bear the burden of this honor, so I asked these kind extras to accompany me," Hashemi joked.
"Hello to the new era and the hope that has recently appeared," he added.
Gholamhossein Mirzaii, known as Gholam Japoni (Japanese Gholam) who along with Hashemi played a minor part in "Two Films with One Ticket", said, "I began my career as an extra in 1968 along with Hashemi. I am glad that Hashemi values us. I have never seen such a place before; I could never even have dreamed this at night."
Sound recorder Jahangir Mirshekari received his award from director Sirus Alvand.
He expressed his thanks to the organizers of the festival for the award, and to his wife for her support throughout his 39-year career in cinema.
The organizers also paid tribute to the five people who were killed January 8 by an explosion on the set of "The Ascendants", filmmaker Masud Dehnamaki's drama on the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.
The ceremony came to an end with a concert by the Iranian rock star Reza Yazdani.
Fifty-two Iranian films and a number of acclaimed movies by foreign filmmakers are competing at the Fajr festival, which runs until February 11.
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