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Complete text of interview with Farhad Towhidi, chairman of the board of directors of the House of Cinema

The public relations office of the house of cinema gave out the complete text of interview with Farhad Towhidi, chairman of the board of directors of the House of Cinema’s interview with the Drama Radio on Thursday, December 2.
What are the roots of the differences between the house of cinema and the general department of cinematographic affairs of the ministry of culture, and what can be done about them?
The house of cinema was established more than 30 years ago, when Mr. Beheshti and Mr. Anvar were the managers. It was suggested that filmmakers should form different trade guilds. The house of cinema was to be formed from the association of guilds for different categories of filmmaking activities. In other words the house of cinema was to be responsible for the affairs of members in various trade guilds. The charter was prepared and approved by the general assembly of the house of cinema, and was confirmed by the council of the general culture, and thus the house of cinema became officially operative in 1990.
Since then different boards of directors took over at the house of cinema and had to face a variety of challenges which derive mainly from differences between points of view of filmmakers and the government authorities on the issue of art. The trade guilds are formed on the structure of a syndicate and have been formed from the base. Decisions are taken through discussions among the members in accordance with the nature of each guild, and thus different methods of dealing with the guild affairs, and of establishing relations with different organizations, or confronting an organization for the purpose of obtaining their rights. There are of course other topics such as upgrading training activities or promoting welfare.
 In other branches of the art in Iran, artists have centers similar to the house of cinema, such as the house of theater, music, etc. These are institutions that have been initiated in the government, and that was quite natural at the time, because we were involved in a war and different conditions prevailed in the country.  But now we are in a period of stability and establishment of a new order. Trade guilds function as a link between the members and the government; they convey the needs and expectations of the members to government authorities, and explain and interpret government policies in various branches to guild members. Trade guilds have a double duty and they are promoted all over the world because they facilitate government procedures and take off part of the load of bureaucratic burden.
An annual budget was allocated for the house of cinema at the time of its establishment which was approved by the Islamic consultative assembly in 1986. It was stipulated that 3% of the total box office receipt of cinemas should be paid to the house of cinema as its annual budget. But from the beginning receiving the budget from the box office receipts was a problem, as the money had to go to the government treasury, and the house of cinema had to receive it from the treasury. This turned out to be a very complicated procedure, and so it was decided to assign annual budgets for the house of cinema on the basis of financial reports which the board of directors of the house of cinema presented to the ministry of culture. The budget was to be paid during the year proportionately with the expenses which the house of cinema had incurred. Even so, receiving the budget usually involved some ups and downs.
What has happened in the past two terms, that is the terms the 11th and 12th  board of directors and the resultant differences between the present cabinet and the house of cinema derives from two different outlooks. In my view the prevailing outlook demands the maximum supervision by the government in artistic affairs, and this seems to be at variance with announced policies. In effect, we are trying to relegate the affairs of the guilds to themselves. But this view has been ignored, and as a result we have witnessed a division among film producers, and a second guild of producers has been formed. This has been contrary to our recommendations to the government authorities, and in fact the minister of culture has announced that film trade guilds are not officially recognized bodies, that is of course with the exception of the new producers guild. They have of course presented a carte blanche to the new producers guild. But the carte blanche is valid only to the extent the new guilds praises government organizations. During the meeting of the new guild managers with the cultural committee of the Islamic consultative assembly, you will notice that no result has been obtained other than the praises which they showered on the current government policies. I am sure the honeymoon will end as soon as the new guild adopts a critical point of view.
But we believe in a minimum intervention by government in artistic affairs. In our view the government should have an overall supervisory role, drawing up general policies and creating infrastructures. It should relegate the details of the professional requirements to the real trade guilds. The management of the professional affairs has been clearly defined in the draft bill for the organization of the cinematic system which was prepared by the house of cinema in 2008 on the recommendation of Mr. Ahmadinejad.  We had presented the future organization which should guide our film industry, and had proposed reference groups made up of attorneys, clerics, academicians, engineers, doctors and filmmakers. In our opinion, issuing a production license is not a valid procedure. W admit that screening licenses should be issued, but production licenses.  We believe the government should trust filmmakers, and their ability to determine what subjects could be treated within the framework of the prevailing criteria and the red lines with which they are acquainted. Naturally anybody who invests in filmmaking is anxious to recoup his money, and so he will take into account all the criteria which will allow him to receive a screening license.
Another point we had dealt with in the draft bill, was the distribution of credits in the filmmaking field. About how the credits should be used. Our main concern in the draft bill was the clarity of procedures. We had envisaged a committee composed of filmmakers which would decide what projects deserve to receive credit facilities. The allocation of credits had to be done on the relative merits of the film projects. We had emphasized clarity of procedure both in the credit allocation and on the receipt of the credits. All the information was to be updated and posted in a site. In the draft bill we had even anticipated the scaling down of the government organizations concerned with the procedure . This was our outlook on the problems of cinema for all of which we had proposed solutions.
Our first contact with the new cabinet started in 2009 with a session with the present minister of culture Mr. Hosseini who at that time had only been nominated for the post. The objective of the session was the exchange of ideas. As everybody is aware that was a critical time, and the mere fact that we had had a session with the future minister of culture could expose us to all sorts of accusations. But we arranged the session only for the purpose of providing information and performing our duties as an association of film trade guilds. We offered our programs both orally and in writing and he introduced his programs which were quite general and rather vague. We presented our requests in two separate documents, covering the draft of an organization of cinematic system, and the draft bill for providing employment security. The bill had been prepared on the basis of a survey of the member guilds. Job security is by far the top priority for the film trade guilds, and in our view it was the most important issue which should have been followed up by the 10th cabinet. Our reason for this was the fact that according to the 4th development plan approved in 2006 the government is obligated to establish the unemployment fund and present the bill for job security bill to the Islamic consultative assembly. Our duty was to follow up the progress of the two plans about which nothing had been done in the three previous years. Our expectation of the government was to take up urgent action to carry out both the establishment of unemployment fund and the preparation of the draft bill for job security. As a matter of act we had prepared the drafts for both programs and had presented them both to the government and the Islamic consultative assembly. For the unemployment fund, which had been anticipated in the 4th development plan, we had envisaged a committee who would assign stipends for unemployed filmmakers which would be paid up to three years and would then be cut off. After that period we had to take action to arrange for the employment of people with no jobs.
Our main points in the draft bill for the organization of cinematic system are the reduction of government functions, and strengthening the trade guilds. And our principal differences with official authorities started from that date. It was supposed that we were trying to close down the Farabi Cinema Foundation, the center for promotion of experimental filmmaking and the Young Cinema society. It is interesting to note that, according to what has so far been announced, such a scheme is the basis of the proposed organization of cinema, and probably the Farabi cinema foundation will be replaced by the organization. This has involved lengthy discussions and so far no clear solutions have been proposed.
Artists present general views on the organization of cinema, and it could be said that actually nobody knows anything about the organization. They all offer general ideas, have no idea of exactly what they are talking about.
Our analysis of the situation is that the organization of cinema will not solve the filmmakers’ problems, but could solve the bureaucratic problems of the ministry of culture. What I mean is that according to the development plan law, the number of deputy ministers in various ministries has to be reduced to five. And naturally the ministry of culture has also to cut down the number of its deputy ministers. There have been long discussions about which deputies should be left out. At the same time it is said that the organization of cinema has to be created because cinema is very important, and a considerable budget has to be allocated for it. The president will head the high council of cinema, and this is really very good news. All this attention to cinema deserves praise, and we welcome it. Budgets have been approved for it. There are talks of 300 billion tumans or something like that. Nothing is definite, and the payment of the current budgets are meeting problems. In any case, organizations are formed to solve problems between different sections and different organizations, such as the organizations headed by the president’s deputies like the organization for the cultural heritage and the planning organization. The heads of these organizations are appointed by the president, and these organizations, which deal with problems outside specific sections, can not be included within ministries. They have to emerge from the present situation so that with more extensive relationships and bigger budgets they can solve problems beyond any specific ministry. But what is really happening with regards to the cinema organization which is being proposed by the ministry of culture?  Apparently this is not a separate and independent organization, and the head of the organization is to be appointed by the minister of culture and not by the president.  Probably the president will then endorse the appointment. Another problem in the ministry of culture that will be resolved with the establishment of the organization of cinema derives from the fact that according to the development plan research department will have to be omitted from the ministries, with the exception of the ministry of sciences. The ministry of culture has a research department which will have to be closed in addition to several offices of deputy ministers. Thus there will be no section in the ministry which could use the budget allocated to the research department. Therefore, the new organization of cinema can use the budget anticipated for the research department.
How to use the budget?
Is it really necessary to create an organization just to use the budget anticipated for the closed research department? The budget could be used by office of the deputy for cinematic affairs and the high council of cinema has been created to solve such problems. But instead of such a simple solution they are creating a new organization, while the basic problems of cinema remain unsolved.
And we are still facing the problem of unpaid vouchers.
Our cinema had a remarkable achievement in the form of tax exemption. All our friends’ efforts in the past two years for the omission of two problematic articles from the implementation charter of the tax exemption has had no result. Even the ministry of economics and finance is willing to omit the articles and all that has to be done is to refer the case to board of ministers to approve the omission of the articles and finalize the tax exemption. Even this simple solution has not been carried out because reportedly the president has stopped it. There is really no need for an organization of cinema to effect such simple solutions. Our main differences are related to the issue of efficiency and the question of what strategy we wish to adopt in the domain of cinema. When the new team took over in the office of the deputy for cinematic affairs our colleagues (Mr. Shahsavari and Mr. Barzideh) were present in the council for issuing production license and they took part in the sessions. In the first session it was announced that a new production scheme had been envisaged according to which the number of films produced annually in the country will be increased to 300. Our representatives objected and argued that this was not practicable. Apparently it was thought that the increase in the annual film production would solve the problem of unemployment. But the point is whether we have enough cinemas to screen 300 films every year? We now have about 300 screening halls which are not sufficient even for the 60 or 70 films which are reportedly produced every year. Under the best circumstances we can screen only 45 to 50 films per year. Then it was said that a portion of the annual production would be distributed through the home video channels. Well then, if some of the films are to be distributed as home videos then why should we classify them among theatrical distribution films? That is where the arguments started and Mr. Barzideh quit the council of production license. Our friends imagined this was done because of an organizational command, and that the house of cinema was creating obstacles. Then they claimed we had asked Mr. Shahsavari not to take part in the sessions of the council. But that was a totally wrong supposition. In fact we introduced a replacement for Mr. Barzideh within three weeks. But by that time other people had been invited to the council and Mr. Barzideh’s position had been occupied. Well, the point is that we have differences on our outlooks on the strategy for cinema.
In my view art is a much loftier issue that political give and take. Unfortunately the social atmosphere is permeated with misunderstandings and any objection is construed as a political measure. That is why I believe we all have to coordinate our activities to overcome misunderstandings. We have to create friendly relationships between the artists and the cultural officials. We have to hope that our two paths will progress in harmony with one another, and that we can meet and resolve our differences under friendly conditions.
 Under the prevailing conditions what are Farhad Towhidi’s  wishes for the cinema in our country?
I wish progress and development for the Iranian cinema. I hope we can create the required infrastructure and that our cinema can have extensive presence in the international area, not just in film festivals but also in the screening halls everywhere in the world. This is really the dream of anybody who loves the Iranian cinema.

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