Despite common narratives that consider it as an ostracized form of entertainment in its early stages in Iran, cinema was in fact a popular communication technology among urban residents in that era. Focusing on the period between 1900s and 1930s, this talk will demonstrate the ways in which Tehran’s diverse urban citizenry endorsed cinema especially for its pedagogical attributes, at a time of governmental decentralization and cinematic precarity. Legitimized as a means to enlighten the masses and therefore entangled in nationalist discourses, the number of movie theatres and film screening venues grew significantly in the first three decades of the twentieth century. Amidst such a dynamic cinematic culture, a Persian-language cinema emerged in the early 1930s. While commonly considered as a ‘national cinema’, this cinematic movement drew from the extant cosmopolitan cinematic culture and employed transnational cinematic elements in its productions. The emergence of this cinema, shaped by people of diverse linguistic, religious, ethnic, and ideological backgrounds and engendered at a time of heightened national consciousness, demonstrates how cosmopolitanism can be read as a style of national imagination in the early twentieth century.
Golbarg Rekabtalaei is a cultural historian of modern Iran, with a broader focus on the modern Middle East. She is interested in the relationships between cinema and modernity, cosmopolitanism, urbanisation, nationalism, and revolutions. Her book, Iranian Cosmopolitanism: A Cinematic History published in 2019 by Cambridge University Press in its Global Middle East book series, investigates the role of cinema, in concrete form and onscreen, in facilitating cosmopolitan imaginations and hybrid subjectivities in twentieth century Tehran. Rekabtalaei is currently an Assistant Professor ofMiddle Eastern History at Seton Hall University.
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