Shirdel went on to document the Iranian Revolution, and his later films also have unusual themes. "Solitude Opus" (2002) is about an elderly man who continues to guard a decommissioned solar power plant on an island in the Persian Gulf.
He is considered a major influence on Iran's new cinema and documentary school of filmmaking, and founded the Kish International Documentary Film Festival, the only independent documentary film festival in Iran.
Hamid Naficy, a professor at Northwestern University outside Chicago and author of "A Social History of Iranian Cinema," said Shirdel's films could be "eye-opening" for Americans who don't know or see much about Iran, since Shirdel has "basically gone underground to show the underbelly of the society."
Shirdel, who is travelling with his wife, is enjoying his visit to America, even though his father forbade such trips while he was alive because of bitterness over the CIA's role in the 1953 coup that overthrew Iranian Prime Minister Mohamed Mossadegh and restored Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to power.
Shirdel said the coup still angers him but he's "not an enemy of America." Politicians everywhere are capable of misdeeds, he said, voicing his hope that more cultural exchanges between Iran and America could ease tensions.
"We are talking about human beings, not about countries, borders," he said, adding that "Good, intelligent, sensible artists still exist" everywhere.
Naficy said it's hard to know whether politics played a role in Shirdel's visit, but he endorsed more cultural exchanges.
"I think that's only way you can avoid misunderstandings and wars," Naficy said.
Online: "Women's Prison": http://bit.ly/1meUkw5