PITTSBURGH (AP) — Kamran Shirdel's films have been censored, banned and celebrated for documenting hidden parts of Iranian society — the plight of Tehran's prostitutes, the desperation of female prisoners, and the reality behind false heroes.
Now he's visiting the U.S. for the first time, speaking about his art and what it took to make it as a filmmaker, first under the Shah then under Islamic rule.
Shirdel, 75, began filming poor and working-class Iranians in the 1960s. Early documentaries such as "Women's Quarter" established Shirdel as an uncompromising artist — and got him fired from a job in the Shah's Ministry of Culture.
Shirdel spoke to The Associated Press at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, which invited him to America and sponsored the trip. He's also scheduled to talk at Stanford University, UC Berkeley, and at Columbia University in New York.
Educated in Italy under legendary filmmakers Roberto Rossellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini, Shirdel worked as an assistant on John Huston's epic film "The Bible." Although he could have made his career working abroad, he said he couldn't forget "the harsh reality of life" among Tehran's poor and returned home and produced work that in spirit resembled documentary rabble-rousers such as Michael Moore.
Shirdel was at first given the opportunity to work within the system. In the mid-1960s the Ministry of Culture gave him a job and "wanted the propaganda films," Shirdel recalled, yet also allowed him to film inside a women's prison and at a reform school for prostitutes.
Seeing the tragic situations of the women firsthand, Shirdel knew immediately what he wanted chronicle, and knew it wouldn't be acceptable to the authorities, since the Shah was trying to promote an image of a modern, prosperous Iranian society.