You might immensely be familiar with the best Iranian movies, but the creators of these feature movies must be known as well. We have curated for you, a list of some of the best, if not literally the best, Iranian film directors you should know. Some of the names might be familiar, like the internationally-recognized Asghar Farhadi, with earning the Best Foreign Film award at Academy Awards ceremony two times. Or the critically acclaimed Jafar Panahi for his many awards at the Cannes Film Festival.
Probably the most-known Iranian director and screenwriter in the world is Asghar Farhadi due to the two Oscars he won. “A Separation” and “The Salesman” are the name of the movies that brought the Academy Awards to the list of Asghar Farhadi’s awards. Farhadi is fond of exploring the depths and complications of every day relationships and themes of trust in Iran in an evocative way. His movies star the well-known actors especially the women who all have a special rule in this great Iranian director.
A critically and popularly acclaimed filmmaker, playwright, theatre director, screenwriter, and film editor. Although Beyzai no longer makes movies, he is often considered a pioneer of a generation of filmmakers whose works are described as the Iranian New Wave. Known as his greatest movie, “Bashu, the Little Stranger” was voted “The Best Iranian Film of all time” by a Persian movie magazine “Picture World”. He is also considered the greatest playwright of the Persian language, and holds a reputation as “the Shakespeare of Persia.”
Dariush Merhjui is perhaps most noted for his film “Gaav” (Cow), considered to be the first film of the Iranian New Wave movement of the seventies. This movement included the best Iranian film directors such as Bahram Beyzai, Abbas Kiarostami, and Masoud Kimiai. Many of his films are inspired by literature, but he also directed four features in the nineties including Banoo, Sara, Pari, and Leila. All the mentioned movies centered around female leads and dealt with women’s issues in society. His movies are mostly compromised with the work of David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick. Mehrjui is a great part of the filmmakers who helped to shape Iran’s cinema industry.
The late Abbas Kiarostami was a director, screenwriter, photographer, painter, poet, and producer. He produced over forty films during his life which all received great attention. He was awarded the Palme d’Or in 1997 for Taste of Cherry in the Cannes Film Festival. This award made him the first Iranian director who has won the Palme d’Or.
It is worth mentioning that his films “Where Is the Friend’s Home?”, “Close-Up”, and “The Wind Will Carry Us” were ranked among the 100 best foreign films in a 2018 critics’ poll by BBC Culture. Abbas Kiarostami turned to one of the best Iranian film directors because of his artistic use of poetic dialogue and allegorical storytelling dealing with political and philosophical issues. His two last works as a director were Certified Copy, starring Juliette Binoche, and Like Someone in Love filmed and produced in Japan. He passed away in 2016 in Paris, respectively.
Bahman Ghobadi was first noticed internationally after directing his first feature film, “A Time for Drunken Horses”, which won the Caméra d’Or award at Cannes in 2000. Since then, he directed other award-winning works that mostly feature Kurdish protagonists including “Marooned” in Iraq and “Turtles Can Fly”. He tends to feature mostly non-professional actors and narrates stories from their actual lives by using a semi-documentary style. Thi style of movie-making was also employed in his last film produced in Iran, “No One Knows About Persian Cats”. The movie explores Tehran’s underground rock scene.
One of the most famous Iranian directors and writers, especially among young generations is Mostafa Kiayee. He studied film making at university and soon he showed his talent in movie scripts. Mostafa Kiayee started his work as an editor, then as a series writer but finally, in 2009, he could make his own featured movie “Baad az Zohre Sagi”. After that, he received some more attention after winning the award of “the Best Scriptwriter” at the Fajr Film Festival in 2011 for the movie Bulletproof (Zedde Gololeh). With the two movies of Special Line (Khat-e Vijeh) and Ice Age (Asr-e Yakhbandan), he turned to one of the directors that people would go and see his movies without a second thought. All the mentioned movies and the films he made afterward are all among the movies worth watching.
The internationally and critically acclaimed Iranian film director and screenwriter Rakhshan Banietemad is widely considered a premier female director. Her films have been praised at international festivals as well as being popular with Iranian critics and audiences. She has the title of “First Lady of Iranian Cinema” which is not only a reference to her eminence as a filmmaker but also connotes her social role of merging politics and family in her work.
After many years of making documentaries for the television, she received the Best Director Award from the Fajr Film Festival for the movie “Narges”. This success marked the first time in the history of the festival that a woman was awarded the Best Director prize. Since then, she has received numerous awards for her films, including a Bronze Leopard Award for “The Blue-Veiled” at the 1995 Locarno Film Festival. Her las featured film “Tales” was selected to compete for the Golden Lion at the 71st Venice International Film Festival.
After several years of making short films and working as an assistant director for fellow Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi achieved international recognition with his feature film debut, “The White Balloon”. The film won the Caméra d’Or at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. This was the first major award an Iranian film won at Cannes.
Panahi has won many international awards including the Golden Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival, the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. His films are known for their humanistic perspective on life in Iran. He often focuses on the hardships of children and women. Panahi’s subsequent film “Taxi” also premiered in competition at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival in February 2015 and won the Golden Bear.
The feminist filmmaker Tahmineh Milani was one of the first Iranian directors who shed light on the social realities and women’s struggles in Iran at the time. One of her most groundbreaking movies was “Two Women” made in 1999. This movie reflects the life of two best friends during a tumultuous period in Iranian history. “The Fifth Reaction”, mostly known as her best movie, took the Grand Prix at the Geneva International Film Festival Tous Ecrans. This movie also explored women’s rights in a male-dominated society. Another worth mentioning movie of Milani is “Cease Fire”, one of the best-selling movies in Iran. Cease Fire took a comedic approach to a couple seeking problems and going through a divorce.
Ali Hatami is known as one of the best Iranian film director, screenwriter, art director, and costume designer. The first movie he made in 1970 was Hassan Kachal (Hassan the Bald), which was the first Iranian musical film. Hatami established a small production village “The Ghazali Cinema Town” to function as a set for historical productions, which he used to produce the popular television series “Hezar Dastan”. In 2006, Hezar Dastan was voted by the Association of Iranian Film and Television Critics as the best Iranian television series ever made. His films did not attract international attention, however, the Iranian audience praised him. He often worked as the art director and costume designer of his own films. He died in 1996 due to cancer in Tehran.
Iranian independent filmmaker, Mohammad Rasoulof became a critically acclaimed director with the film “The Twilight” in 2002. This movie was awarded a Crystal Simorgh for the Best First Film at the International Fajr Film Festival. In 2011 the movie “Be Omid-e Didar” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and won the award for directing. His last movie that received international acclaim was “There Is No Evil” that was awarded the Golden Bear in the main competition section at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival in 2020.
From his very first movies, critics could tell that Abdolreza Kahani was a talented screenwriter and director. After making 3 feature films, it was the movie “Twenty” in 2009 that caught a lot of attention in Iranian and foreign film festivals. Twenty won the Special Jury Prize and the Prize of Ecumenical Jury at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Then every movie he directed was under the spotlight and brought him many awards. These worth watching movies are Nothing (Hich), Absolutely Tame Is a Horse (Asb Heyvan-e Najibi Ast), and By no Reason (Bikhod o Bi Jahat).