In Iran, the Ministry of Guidance and Islamic Culture imposes a strict process of review and approval for all screenplays before films can be legally produced in the country. Films that are produced also face censorship, and directors are often ordered to remove certain scenes before the authorities allow them to screen the film. Prominent director Abdolreza Kahani migrated to France in 2015 after three of his films were banned in the Islamic Republic and he was prevented from submitting them to international festivals. His films, which focus on social issues in the country, had great commercial success but “sometimes a filmmaker’s actions become more important than his films,” he told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) in a recent interview.
CHRI: What kind of censorship do filmmakers encounter in Iran? Which agencies are involved?
Kahani: First, the screenplay has to be submitted to the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry. A censorship committee of eight or nine people will review it. After the film is made, it has to be reviewed by the Screening Permit Council.
But after the council issues a permit, many other authorities can create problems, including the Islamic Propagation Organization (IPO), the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the municipality and others.
For instance, the IRIB could refuse to show the trailer [on national TV] for certain films. Or the municipality could refuse to let it be shown at theatres. Every organization will raise obstacles in any way they can. Filmmakers always had issues with the Guidance Ministry but now they have to deal with other agencies as well. In fact, censorship has not gone away; it has become even worse.
CHRI: Are members of the review committees known by the filmmakers? Are they themselves engaged in the film profession? Are they film critics?
Kahani: There is a department of the Guidance Ministry called the Office for Overseeing and Evaluating Films. It is the censorship office, in essence. They watch all the films. Some of them are permanent members and others change with every new government. Some of them are filmmakers who like to engage in censorship as well. That is one of the strange aspects of the film industry in Iran.
The committee watches the films to ensure that the people would not be “corrupted” by certain scenes. That always made me ask the question: How is it that the sensors themselves are not corrupted when they watch these films?
CHRI: Are censorship requests communicated verbally or in writing?