A brief history of Iranian cinema, from Haji Agha to Agha Farhad

Bahram-Beyzai-BashuTo best understand the roots of Iranian cinema, one must perhaps travel back to the early 20th century, when the Qajar monarch Mozaffareddin Shah was shown cinematographic footage during a visit to France. The cinematograph, invented in 1892, was the successor to the kinetoscope that granted viewers the ability to watch quality, illuminated images on a screen, as opposed to through Thomas Edison’s ‘peephole’. Enraptured by the projected pictures of ships crossing the River Seine, street scenes, and camels traversing the Sahara, the Shah ordered his personal photographer, Mirza Ebrahim Khan ‘Akasbashi’ (lit. ‘Master Photographer’), to buy all the equipment necessary to bring film to Iran1. The first cinema there was opened in the backyard of an antique dealer in 1904, and soon afterwards, similar establishments cropped up all over Tehran. Such places were initially frequented by the upper classes, mainly, until cinema took over as the most popular form of entertainment, with ticket prices kept deliberately low in order to attract audiences from all backgrounds.

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