An Old War for New Purposes: Contemporary Sacred Defense Cinema and Iran's Divided State and Society

Niki Akhavan
Apr 17, 2024, 12:15 pm1:15 pm
Free, Open to the Public



Event Description



It has been almost forty years since the Iran-Iraq war ended, and yet that eight year conflict continues to appear in Iran’s political discourse and cultural productions. Nowhere is this more evident than in the large body of films known as Sacred Defense Cinema. As a state endorsed phenomenon, the works in this genre provide a view into how the war and its legacies have been conjured for the purposes of pushing particular agendas and grappling with social and political troubles. While the Iranian post-revolutionary state has been accustomed to facing domestic and international crises since its inception, some of the biggest challenges it has faced have arguably arisen over the last decade and a half. With a focus on the films of this recent period, this paper suggests that while many of the themes of the nascent years of the genre persist, the internal tensions of the state and society are increasingly depicted within them. This does not mean, however, that the films no longer serve an ideological function. As this paper will illustrate, the messaging of the genre appears to have shifted to justify contemporary international policies, specifically interventionist agendas abroad and the strengthening of a security state inside the country.


Niki Akhavan is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Media and Communication Studies at the Catholic University of America. She is the author of Electronic Iran: the Politics of an Online Evolution (Rutgers, 2013) and has also published on Iranian narrative and documentary cinema, Iranian sports and media, as well as on state media productions and policies. In addition to her research, Akhavan is an avid translator, most recently of Mohsen Kadivar’s Human rights and reformist Islam (Edinburgh University Press, 2021).

Poster for event, information in text.
Alison Cummins