Animation Consultants International

Meanwhile in Zimbabwe ...
and Iran

A story from Zimbabwe, “Iran to Help Upgrade Zim's Broadcasting Systems” (The Harare Herald, February 18, 2003), recently caught my attention. It tells of a visit by representatives of the Iranian Broadcasting Institution and Saba Film Corporation, the production arm of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, which is also the largest animation producer in Iran. The purpose of the trip was not only to upgrade the local public broadcasting system, but also to promote a cultural exchange program.

It is not clear to what extent animation figures in all this, but the story states,

Mr [Mehdi] Masoudshahi [Saba's managing director] said there was need for cooperation in the field of film production, animation and training in a way that would ensure films shown on television reflected the culture and national aspirations of people in the two countries.

“Through animation we can express ourselves very well,” he said. “Animation is a very big instrument to do that.”

For several years now, Saba Animation has been attempting to expand by exporting its own productions, engaging in international co-productions and soliciting service work from the West. It has some limited success in the export arena, having sold at least one its TV series, the puppet animated Magic Ring (see image) to NHK in Japan. It has also sought co-productions with Western studios, including those in the U.S., that might exploit the rich treasure trove of Persian literature.

In 1999, I was contacted by Saba Animation about representing it in the United States. Given the American government's embargo on trade with Iran, it would have been impossible for me to even entertain such an offer. The embargo would not necessarily affect its ability to export programming to the U.S., as a number of Iranian films have gotten limited art house release — but children's TV programming is another matter. The domestic market in Iran for such shows as God Loves Storks (illustrated) is limited, and production would certainly not be as prolific if it were not for government subsidies. Thus, the drive to reach out to foreign markets and co-production partners, including countries such as Zimbabwe, has more to do with economics than with ideology.

While the current political situation would seem to preclude any sort of relationship between the U.S. and Iran, in terms of animation, it is certainly within the realm of possibility. (Despite President Bush putting Iran in his “Axis of Evil,” the two countries have been quietly cooperating in regards to Afghanistan and the impending war against Iraq.)

Iran could be quite attractive to foreign producers. In addition to low wage rates, the nine-year old Saba Animation has considerable experience in producing series animation, and Iranian filmmakers such as Noureddin Zarrinkelk have long been a fixture at major international animation festivals. In any case, until the current situation in regards to Iraq clears up, major deals with Iranian companies such as Saba will probably have to be put on hold.

— Harvey Deneroff
March 9, 2003

2003 by Harvey Deneroff


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