Over the past few decades, Iranian films have received numerous accolades and been critically praised at film festivals around the world. The films of esteemed Iranian filmmakers such as Forugh Farrokhzad, Dariush Mehrjui, Abbas Kiarostami, and Jafar Panahi have been celebrated for their aesthetic vision, their subversion of censorship under the Pahlavi monarchy and the Islamic Republic, and their notable success in transcending national and cultural borders. While Iranian cinema is heralded today for its transnational character, there has been little discussion in film history1 about the international nature of early filmmaking in Iran. The lack of such knowledge about the emergence of filmmaking in Iran is due, in large part, to the fact that the greater part of the early footage and documentation has been lost or destroyed. Russian and Armenian filmmakers, producers, and businessmen who were either foreigners or members of ethnic and religious minorities in Iran heavily influenced the emergence of the film industry in Iran. The degree to which Russian film technology and pedagogy influenced the emergence of the film industry in Iran is apparent from Iran’s first feature film, Abi va Rabi (1930), a black-and-white silent comedy directed by Ovanes Ohanian, an Armenian who had studied film in Russia. Further, Ohanian’s second film, Hajji Agha: Cinema Actor, which was a significant departure from the imitation of foreign films, defended the importance of Iranian cinema and critiqued the role of cinema in political and religious discourse in Iran in the early twentieth century. Very little is known about the earliest days of filmmaking in Iran. Still photography in Iran emerged in the middle of the nineteenth century as a result of Nasser al-Din Shah’s personal interest in the art, which was triggered by his visits to Europe in 1873, 1878, and 1889.2 Photography was initially confined to the royal court, even though Muslim theologians, such as Mullah Hadi Sabzavari, vocally opposed the new art on religious grounds. Mirza Ibrahim Khan Akkasbashi (akkas-bashi means “cameraman” in Persian), whose father, Mirza Ahmad Zia ul-Saltaneh, had been the court photographer during the reign of Nasser al-Din, was the royal photographer of Muzaffar al-Din Shah Qajar. While in France in the summer of 1900, Muzaffar al-Din Shah ordered Mirza Ibrahim Khan Akkasbashi to buy film equipment to film the rest of the shah’s visit to Europe and future royal ceremonies in Iran. After seeing moving pictures for the first time in his life, Muzaffar al-Din Shah wrote in his travelogue diary:

[A]t 9:00 P.M. we went to the Exposition3 and the Festival Hall where they were showing cinematographe, which consists of still and motion pictures. Then we went to Illusion building . . . In this Hall they were showing cinematographe. They erected a very large screen in the centre of the Hall, turned off all electric lights and projected the picture of cinematography on that large screen. It was very interesting to watch. Among the pictures were Africans and Arabians traveling with camels4 in the African desert which was very interesting. Other pictures were of the Exposition, the moving street, the Seine River and ships crossing the river, people swimming and playing in the water and many others which were all very interesting. We instructed Akkas Bashi to purchase all kinds of it [cinematographic equipment] and bring to Tehran so God willing he can make some there and show them to our servants.5