Re/Form: New Forms in Cinema and Media in Post-Khatami Iran

By Blake Atwood
Submitted to Session P2895 (New Perspectives on Middle Eastern Cinema, 2011 Annual Meeting
Media Arts
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
This paper is part of a larger project that seeks to rethink a complicated relationship between cinema and the Reformist Movement in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Scholars have thus far reduced interactions between these institutions to modes of mutual support, noting Mohammad Khatami’s backing of the film industry during his tenure as Minster of Islamic Culture and Guidance (1982-1992) and his liberal cultural policies as president (1997-2005). However, my research indicates that Iranian cinema and the Reformist Movement crucially informed one another, and the dynamics of their exchange functioned on an ideological level. More than just benefiting from the Reformist Movement, Iranian cinema helped to shape and articulate its emerging political discourse. The Reformist Movement, therefore, marked a change on the political landscape at the same time that it signaled a new phase in the country’s cinematic history.

The exchanges between Khatami’s Reformist Movement and Iranian cinema have generated a unique set of aesthetic qualities that includes a revival of mystic love, the use of Tehran as a metaphoric site of social and structural reformation, and reconfigurations of perceptions of time.
In this paper, I examine Massoud Bakhshi’s "Tehran anar nadarad" [Tehran Has No More Pomegranates] (2007), a self-described “musical, historical, comedy, docu-drama, love story, experimental film,” and the music video “‘Eshq-e sor’at” [Love of Speed] (2007), performed by the underground band Kiosk, directed by Ahmad Kiarostami, and released on YouTube. I use this comparison to prove that reform as an aesthetic movement functions outside of the temporal limits of its political antecedent. Although both works were released two years after Khatami’s presidency ended, and did not benefit directly from his cultural liberalism, they still participate in central reformist debates. Specifically, they interrogate the legacy of Khatami’s political platform, which included concepts like “civil society” and “religious democracy.” Their experimentation with form further suggests that the reformist aesthetic possesses a momentum that permits it to develop and transform without explicit contact with the political movement that inspired it. By considering a film alongside a music video, I hope to use reform to connect innovations in cinema to trends in new media and youth culture and, thereby, establish a new model for the study of cultural productivity in contemporary Iran.