If the august group — including American Beauty star Annette Bening and Field of Dreams director Phil Robinson — thought their arrival in Tehran would be greeted in a spirit of peace and harmony, they had underestimated the pent-up anger of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s staunchly anti-Western government.
Ahmadinejad’s arts adviser, Javad Shamghadri, dashed hopes that the attempt at cultural detente would pass off smoothly when he demanded that the nine-strong delegation apologize for Hollywood’s perceived past sins if they wanted to meet leading figures in Iran’s film industry.
“[Iranian] cinema officials will only have the right to have official sessions with ... Hollywood movie-makers when they apologize to the Iranians for their 30 years of insults and slanders,” Shamghadri told the news agency ISNA. “The Iranian people and our revolution have been repeatedly unjustly attacked by Hollywood. We will believe Obama’s policy of change when we see change in Hollywood too, and if Hollywood wants to correct its behavior towards Iranian people and Islamic culture, then they have to officially apologize.”
The demand for an apology echoed similar comments from Ahmadinejad, who has said Washington should admit past misdeeds as a condition for direct talks between the US and Iran.
It came as the group — which also included Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, William Horberg, producer of The Kite Runner, and Alfre Woodard, who acted in Desperate Housewives — began a charm offensive billed as a “creative exchange” but clearly aimed at bridging a gulf of mutual misunderstanding.
The delegation was invited to Iran by Khane Cinema (Cinema House), the country’s biggest film group, which is under the authority of the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance.
It is scheduled to hold training workshops on acting, directing, documentary-making and other aspects of the business as well as tour the facilities of the state broadcaster, IRIB. Meetings have been promised with Majid Majidi and Ebrahim Hatamikia, two local directors in good standing with the theocratic government.
The visit bucks a recent trend of Iran discouraging cultural and academic exchanges with the US on the grounds that they could be used to foment a “velvet revolution” against the Islamic regime. An US women’s badminton team was denied entry last month despite having been invited to play in a tournament.
That the Hollywood celebrities were granted visas suggests the government wants to alter the way it is depicted and undermines claims by the academy’s communication director, Leslie Unger, that the visit had “no political agenda.”
“The presence of the delegation might be an opportunity for showing the real image of Iran against the recent stream of anti-Iranian movies produced in Hollywood in which they try to show a bellicose, militaristic image of the country,” the newspaper Etemaad wrote. “These well-known cinema figures can take a new genuine dynamic image of contemporary Iran.”
Officials say the country has suffered deliberate and systematic misrepresentation by Hollywood, which they often accuse of being controlled by pro-Zionist interests.
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