Following a bitter struggle during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tenure culminating in its closure, Iran’s House of Cinema reopened today in Tehran, with hundreds of jubilant cinema folks in attendance. The reopening was welcomed by many who see it as delivery on one of the many promises Hassan Rouhani made during his presidential election campaign.
“Starting today, September 12, the House of Cinema will be reopened on orders from the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Ali Jannati, and by signing this order, the resumption of this trade organization’s activities will be legal and official,” said Deputy Culture Minister for Cinema Hojatollah Ayoubi. “The reopening of the House of Cinema is very important because this organization can serve as a good adviser that has brought different guilds together and provides assistance to [the government’s cinema] management,” he added.
On January 3, 2012, Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance sent the Iranian House of Cinema a letter ordering them to cease operations within 48 hours. The Iranian Judiciary then shut down the House of Cinema, Iran’s largest professional film association with over 5,000 members. Acting as an umbrella organization of different motion picture guilds, the House of Cinema aims to protect the financial interests, job security, and rights of its membership and to provide professional training for individuals working in the Iranian film industry.
The House of Cinema was not the only trade organization targeted by government actions. During Ahmadinejad’s eight-year presidency, Iranian authorities persistently targeted major independent organizations, several of which were suppressed or disbanded by the government. Since 2008, for example, authorities have shut down the Defenders of Human Rights Center, led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi; the Association of Iranian Journalists; and Daftar-e Tahkim, a leading pro-democracy student union; as well as dozens of other civil society organizations.
When closing the House of Cinema, the Ministry alleged that the association had not followed the required legal process for establishing a cultural institution and was thus not legally authorized and was operating without a license.
The association’s lawyer, Jamal Khandan, told the official Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA), “The activities of House of Cinema are authorized…. [It] is registered with the Cooperate Registration Bureau, which is under the Judiciary.” The House of Cinema told ISNA that the registration was formally approved by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in August 1994.
The attacks on House of Cinema took place in the context of increasing government displeasure with the work of Iran’s independent film community and some of the films produced by House of Cinema’s membership, which often challenge Iranian social norms and address socioeconomic, ethnic, and gender issues.
On his campaign trail earlier this year, President Hassan Rouhani told eager audiences, “Let’s leave the cinema to those who know cinema, to fimmakers, artists,” and “we must allow cinema organizations to be free.”