Iranian documentaries are startlingly candid, coming from "an essentially totalitarian society," writes the documentary film magazine Point of View (article not available online). The trade-off: not all Iranian films at international festivals come with official approval, nor are they all allowed to be screened in Iran.
That tension doesn’t mean Iran’s government doesn’t applaud its filmmakers. On the contrary—At the opening of Tehran’s Cinema Verité documentary festival last October, reports Point of View, Iran’s Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance praised documentary filmmaking as “a method of uprising against a world in which the truth is denied.” He also called it “a readily understood language which can be used in the struggle against evil.”
The Iranian documentaries discussed are more modest and less cryptic than the minister’s statement, not to mention more revealing about Iranian society than the cultural minister might like. They give less-than-lofty glimpses into “individual experience” like incarcerated youth dealing with the effects of drug abuse (It’s Always Late for Freedom) and Iranian male-to-female transsexuals (the Sundance-screened Be Like Others). The films reminders viewers of Iranian citizens’ humanity and individuality, writes Point of View, “at a time when our everyday knowledge of Iran is predicated on cultural generalizations.”