“I am neither a sociologist nor a politician. All I can do is imagine for myself what the future will be like.” —Michelangelo Antonioni
As a forerunner of the Iranian documentary cinema, and much like his mentor, Michelangelo Antonioni, Kamran Shirdel has always been presenting his own interpretation of reality, challenging his audience to face a difficult question concerning the nature of an event. However, his commissioned and self-produced documentarie works, even those that were made as industrial documentaries, have been caught in a web of political considerations, which has in turn made them into significant documents of the Iranian contemporary society.
As the first Iranian filmmaker who has made use of photographs as inserts in his works, Shirdel has shot the photographs of this project—which was not commissioned by a specific broadcasting company or news agency—only as inserts for a documentary film. All of these photos were shot in his wanderings in Tehran during the days that led to the Iranian Revolution.
Now we see Kamran Shirdel’s photographs independent of his films, not as historic sociopolitical documents, but as a micro-narrative on the margins of the larger context of the Revolution, next to the dailies that were never made into films.
Kamran Shirdel is a pioneering figure of the Iranian new cinema and the founder of Iran’s sociopolitical documentary school of filmmaking. He was born in 1939 in Tehran. In 1957, he started studying Architecture and Urbanism at the University of Rome, and in 1962 he became the first Iranian student to study Film Direction at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia of Rome, graduating in 1964 with a degree in Film and Television Directing. His first short film, “Gli Specchi” [“The Mirrors”] (1963), won the diploma of honor in the World Cinema School Film Festival in Tokyo. His teachers were Cesare Zavattini, Roberto Rossellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Francesco Rosi, Gillo Pontecorvo, Vittorio De Seta, among many others.
Upon his return to Iran in 1965, he started making documentaries for the Ministry of Culture and Art. After making “Boom-e Simin,” commissioned by the Iranian Women’s Organization, he started working on “Nedamatgah” [“Women’s Prison”], “Qal’eh” [“The Women’s Quarter” aka “Fortress: The Red Light District”], and “Tehran Paitakhte Iran Ast” [“Tehran Is the Capital of Iran”]. His unprecedented courageousness in depicting the dark and disturbing realities of the Iranian society resulted in confiscating the material of the production, which stoped him from finishing these films. In the winter of 1968, Shirdel was commissioned to direct a merry, positive film called “The Epic of a Gorgani Village Boy or the Night that Rained,” which was also banned due to his approach to the realities of society as well as his dark humor. Thus, his cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and Art came to an end. In 1970, Shirdel established his own film studio called Filmgrafic Co. In the course of the next several years, he produced and directed numerous documentary and commercial films in his studio, including “Peykan,” which was a unique experience in documentary filmmaking for the Iranian industry. Shirdel made his first feature film, “Sobh-e Rooz-e Chaharrom” [“The Morning of the Fourth Day”] (1971-72), which was a free adaptation of Jean-Luc Godard’s famous “À bout de souffle” [“Breathless”]. The film won several awards at the 3rd Edition of SEPAS National Film Festival. After being banned for six years, “The Night that Rained” was selected for the 3rd Tehran International Film Festival, winning the prize for “the best documentary film.” However, once the festival was over and the foreign members of the jury (including Gillo Pontecorvo, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Miklós Jancsó, and Rouben Mamoulian), reporters, and journalists left Iran, the film was banned again, until it was finally given screening permission after the revolution, which made it world-famous.
In 1975, Shirdel directed and produced the first feature film of the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults called “Doorbin” [“The Camera”], which was a free adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s famous “The Government Inspector” (aka “The Inspector General”). Due to its explicit social criticism and its satirical overtone, this film was also banned during filming.
When the negatives and other material of the banned films (such as sound recordings) were found after the revolution in 1980, Shirdel started the editing and post-production processes of these films. Since some of the original footage was missing, Shirdel decided to edit the remaining film and sound together with photographs of “Shahr-e No” [“The New City “] taken by the late Kaveh Golestan. Once they were finished and screened in Iran, these films, namely “The Women’s Quarter” and “Tehran Is the Capital of Iran,” were recognized in many international film festivals and art institutions.
With his career spanning over five decades, Shirdel has received many trophies and lifetime achievement awards from museums and international festivals. In 2010, Shirdel was appointed as the Italian Cavaliere di Gran Croce (the first class Order of Merit of the Italian Republic [OMRI]) by the then Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and was also granted an honorary Doctorate degree.