Movie Theaters in Iran
A Place in the Shade
by Abbas Baharlou

Cinema has always been welcomed as an inexpensive entertainment. In the early years of cinema in Iran, the people particularly liked the films with entertaining and funny stories and adventures. In its early days, going to the movies was a sort of recreational activity solely for men. However, some theater owners tried to create an atmosphere which was also suitable for women and children. After a while, it was quite normal to see women sitting in movie theaters next to their husbands and children. Nevertheless, there were always fewer women than men among the viewers. That was caused by cultural, historical and social reasons.
The first temporary theaters were set up in late Qajar period in 1900. The first movie theaters or cinemas were built in Iran under Reza Shah in early 20th century. Soon the cinema became popular in Iran under Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi in mid-20th century. Many of these theaters were set on fire during the 1979 revolution.  Some of them were confiscated after the revolution and were handed over to revolutionary institutions. After that the private sector was reluctant to build new movie houses.

Qajar Period:
Mozaffareddin Shah learned about “moving pictures” in 1899. And he saw them when he went to Europe to seek medical treatment in April 1900. It was then that he saw the first cinematograph. He had one of those machines bought by the court photographer, Mirza Ebrahim Khan, along with some films and a projector and brought them back to Iran, which was then called Persia.  So the court halls were the first movie theaters.

The First Public Places
The first Iranians who became familiar with cinema were travelers and merchants who went to Europe to purchase goods. Mirza Ebrahim Khan Sahhafbashi was one of them. He bought some of those machines including a cinematograph and brought them back to Iran.  He set up a theater behind his antiques shop in Tehran’s Lalehzar Avenue which was later turned into the Iranian version of Broadway. The noblemen of Tehran welcomed those films, which were mostly produced by Pathe studio. In November 1903 he set up another cinema elsewhere. This was an exclusively men’s cinema. It showed comedies and 10-minute newsreels.
Sahhafbashi soon had to leave the country when he came under government pressure for his liberal ideas. In 1907 he sold his cinematograph machine to a man named Artashes Padmagerian (aka Ardeshir Khan) and then went to India with his family....

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