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She is smart and dynamic, a graduate student and freelance journalist who is quick to criticize the US government and the perfidy of CNN.When I mention that, a few days ago, I had overheard Friday prayers and was taken aback by the chanting of so much that she’s seen the first installment of the Dream Works trilogy “at least thirty-six or thirty-seven times.” Her obsession is, apparently, shared by many Iranians.
The last time he was arrested, in the early 1990s, the Islamic Republic confiscated a truckload of tins of film.
Mahmoud estimates three thousand canisters of film were lost; fortunately, Ali had many others hidden elsewhere.
A single American film like of people living in a sexually censorious society?
Or was it simply the impossible lushness and the tactile pleasures of American CGI technology itself? Because our she told me, isn’t an American film at all.
“Here look: ten thousand dollars.” Over the years, Ali has come to serve as a valuable resource for the film communities in Tehran, and as such, occupies a strange place both above and below the government’s radar.
He tells me of the day in the early 1970s when he met director William Wyler, who had come to Iran for a screening of his film The Tehran branch of Paramount couldn’t get its hands on a copy of the film in time, and someone thought to contact Ali. He continues to provide rare films for Iranian film students and scholars, and his screenings are reminiscent of the ones with which Langlois inspired the French New Wave.The students at the university, where I am teaching a seminar on American Studies, are complaining openly about the failures of their elected officials.Nahal and I are sitting in a café off Haft-e Tir Square.As we walk through the grime of downtown Tehran, Mahmoud talks of his other film-critic friends who have been sent to jail.“The authorities accuse the critics of advertising Western values with their reviews,” says Mahmoud. They tell us, ‘You are advertising sex.’” According to Mahmoud, the censorship rules governing what’s allowed onto Iranian screens are haphazard and idiosyncratic.He tells me that he started collecting early, and explains his clever methods of subterfuge.When Hollywood films were screened throughout Iran under the Shah’s regime, they were licensed for a brief run, after which they were returned to the studio’s Iranian headquarters in Tehran.Perhaps the question I should have been asking was this: What does it mean that Americans and Iranians make such different things of each other’s cinemas?I returned to Tehran last winter to try to make more sense of these cultural readings and misreadings, and in particular to try to better understand the debate in Iran over Iranian directors like Abbas Kiarostami, lionized in the US but not generally admired in Iran.A colleague from home has connected me with an editor in Tehran who has in turn put me in touch with a young film critic named Mahmoud. As to why such a collection would be considered illegal, apparently it is illegal for “non-official” people to own 35 mm films at all.Also, much of what Ali owns is considered “immoral” material.