Salaam Cinema! 50 Years of Iranian Movie Posters

In the spring of 2015, Hamid Naficy, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani Professor in Northwestern University’s School of Communication and a leading authority in the cultural studies of diaspora cinemas, approached the Repository & Digital Curation department at University Libraries about digitizing 250 Iranian movie posters for his Winter 2016 course on Iranian cinema.

But that wasn’t all.

Not only was Dr. Naficy going to generously donate the entire collection to University Libraries, he also wanted to experiment with a new approach to teaching the course that would involve his students in the curation of the history and data associated with each poster. Instead of hearing it from him in a lecture, this collaborative work would enable his students to have a stake in the creation of their learning; they would communicate their understanding of the history of Iranian cinema at an exhibition at the Block Museum. Dr. Naficy envisioned the exhibit as a way to tell the history of Iranian Cinema, using the stories and image composition of the pre- and post-Islamic Revolution posters as evidence. 

Pre-Revolution posters left; post-Revolution posters right. Represent the move from a more open culture to the present conservative one in Iran. Image courtesy of the Block Museum of Art.

Dr. Naficy noted that, “I collected these posters during the nearly forty years that took me to research, write, and publish my four volume book, A Social History of Iranian Cinema,” an award-winning book that covers the history of cinema in Iran from 1897 to 2010.  

“Originally,” he continued, “I had a contract with the Duke University Press for a one volume book, but as it grew the chief editor of the press in an enlightened move suggested that we both raise funds from our respective academic resources to make the publication and the reasonable pricing of the books possible.” He gathered these posters through his years of conducting interviews with film directors, stars, producers, and exhibitors in Iran and in the United States.   

Starting in the late spring of 2015, digital curation librarian Nicole Finzer began generating the basic metadata (title and release date) associated with each poster. Once the initial information was assembled, Finzer presented this work to Dr. Naficy’s Winter 2016 class.

After the metadata stage was complete, the students then set out to do the real work that Dr. Naficy intended – to find a way to tell the history of Iranian cinema using only the posters in the collection. The students used the Libraries’ Images Repository to do their research. They would research a group of films assigned by Dr. Naficy, and once they’d gathered all of the necessary data, they would write a paper and make a group presentation based on the context or analysis of the films and the posters.

Through research papers, presentations, and class discussions, his students found a visual way to represent the move from a more open culture to the present conservative one in Iran. As the course was not just on history but also the films themselves, the students also analyzed the filmmaking techniques to help give them a better sense of how they related to specific genres and sub-genres.

The students’ work helped facilitate Dr. Naficy and the University Libraries’ goal to make this content available digitally to the public for the first time. It also helped to create the first Iranian movie poster exhibition in the United States.

Attendees at the opening for the Salaam Cinema exhibition. Image courtesy of the Block Museum of Art.

On October 6, 2016, the exhibition Salaam Cinema! 50 Years of Iranian Movie Posters opened at the Block Museum to great acclaim. The collaboration has resulted in a dramatic exhibit that documents the social history of cinema in Iran and over half a century of dramatic political turmoil and change that addresses film culture itself—the act of filmmaking, genre conventions, the experience of going to the movies, and unique cinephilia that is specific to Iran. This self-reflexivity is central to the exhibition and the accompanying film series Iranian Cinephilia: From Filmfarsi to Art-House Cinema, in which some fourteen key films in the history of Iranian cinema were screened to the public, involving five filmmakers, two of whom travelled from Iran to present their films and discuss them with audiences.

A symposium, Lucid Figurations: Iranian Movie Poster and Film Art, will take place at the Block Museum on November 17th and 18th, during which nearly a dozen scholars from around the world present papers on the art of movie poster and art house filmmaking by Iranians.

Salaam Cinema! 50 Years of Iranian Movie Posters will be on display at the Block Museum through Sunday, December 11.  Regular admission to the Block Museum is free and open to all 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The complete Hamid Naficy Iranian Movie Posters Collection is now also available to view in University Libraries’ the Images Repository. See the link below for a slideshow of the exhibit’s posters. 

Naficy praised the collaboration of the Block Museum of Art staff: “Many staff members worked with me in curating, screening, and hosting the poster exhibition, film series, and symposium, particularly Michelle Puetz, Curator of Media Arts. Block, my own department of Radio-TV-Film and many other University units helped with funding these events—providing a great example of intellectual, artistic, and financial collaboration that exists across Northwestern’s campus.”

View slideshow