Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The fine line between what is permitted and what is not
Ramin Sadighi, the founder of Iranian world music label Hermes Records, talks about the constraints on artists in the Islamic Republic, the battle against copyright infringement and what international sanctions mean for his record label 

Interview by Shahram Ahadi, Qantara

Mr Sadighi, let's imagine the following situation: your label comes to an agreement with an artist, and nothing stands in the way of producing a record. But there's still the matter of obtaining the necessary permit from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (Ershad). Have you encountered problematic cases like this before? 

Ramin Sadighi: I completely disagree with artists having to get a permit from the ministry because things like that are not only directed against the work of an artist, but against society as a whole...

Excuse me for interrupting you at this point, but what official channels does an artist have to go through in order to finally obtain the necessary permit? 

Sadighi: There are three hurdles: if the type of artistic product we're talking about is song, then the whole thing first has to be passed by a so-called "song panel". They won't permit anything that insults Islam or any political content.

And therein lies the problem: a lot of artists in Iran today want to use their songs to address social problems in their country, and if the song panel doesn't agree with certain points, you don't get a permit. The decision also depends on which "evaluation team" the panel assigns. You can never say exactly where the boundaries between what's allowed and what is forbidden are going to be.

What about classical songs? Do you encounter similar problems there?

Sadighi: Yes. There are some songs about love, like for example some works by Molana (Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi). It's often ruled that one verse or another has to be left out.

And what happens once you have actually managed to get a permit from the song panel? 

Sadighi: After that, the musical product as a whole has to be approved in order for it to be released. The entire artistic endeavour is gone over by the "music committee". If you get over that hurdle, the music can finally be produced. But in the course of production, there can also be personal checks on the artist.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Dancing around clichés

The film "Desert Dancer" tells the story of an Iranian dancer in a land where dancing is not permitted. Audiences are once again presented with a biased picture of a complex country. This review questions the tendency of filmmakers to portray Iran in an exclusively negative light

Still from the film "Desert Dancer" (photo: Senator). Courtesy Qantara.
The opening scene is of a boy sprightly dancing in front of his jubilant classmates. Moments later, he is caught by his glaring teacher. Switch to the next scene: on the way home from school, the boy tells his mother that he was beaten by his teacher. The background setting is arranged down to the smallest detail: behind the pair, a propaganda mural featuring soldiers can be seen on a wall. Off to the side, a market scene is being acted out: a handful of women, all of whom are shrouded in chadors, are clamouring around a vegetable stand.

The concerned mother, who is the only woman in the scene wearing a loose-fitting headscarf, explains the nature of the world to the young would-be dancer. "Do you see those men over there?" The camera pans to a group of young men with beards and white shirts. "They are the Basij, the morality police. If they see you dancing, you will suffer a lot worse."

Every cliché within the span of two minutes

It doesn't even take two minutes for "Desert Dancer", a new film set in Iran by the British director Richard Raymond, to serve up all of the popular clichés about Iran. The set pieces are so tightly packed together that anyone in the audience who knows Iran will feel their stomachs churning. In order to avoid any misunderstandings, let us be clear about a few things: a good deal of what is portrayed in the film is reality in Iran. But, as is so often the case, the greater part of reality is simply filtered out.

The plot of the film, which is based on a true story, can be quickly summed up: the young Afshin has a dream; he wants to become a dancer. But, dancing is frowned upon in his native Iran, and a career as a dancer is impossible. When Afshin moves to Tehran to study, he sets up an underground dance group.