[The following is the "Iran Film Project" section of the second edition of "The MSU-Iran Film Project", published by The Committee to Stop the MSU-Iran Film Project in October, 1977. I am transcribing and making this available on the Internet as a document of lost and found history. There are a few minor spelling and grammar corrections, but for the most part this is as it appeared in the pamphlet (my transcription errors excepted). -- jd (My home page)]

The MSU-Iran Film Project

The Iran Film Project
Sidebar 1 - Ali Issari
Sidebar 2 - U.S. Information Agency
Appendix A

The Iran Film Project

The following quotes are taken fro the original proposal to NIRT [National Iranian Radio and Television] for the Iran Film Series, as conceived by Professor Ali Issari.

"Iran is a unique example of rapid modern transfiguration which has not yet been documented for instructional use. This critical period in the history of Iran therefore goes unseen and unheard by the American public, and in particular, the American student...

"Michigan State University, in recognition of this need, supports the following proposal, and will provide the film makers and facilities to complete this project under NIRT financing...

"The purpose of this project is to capture on film the new Iran, the country as it is today, as well as its glorious civilization which has contribute so much to world advancement...

"Our reasoning is simple:

1. A survey shows an abysmal lack of current and objective instructional material on Iran either for instructional purposes or for general distribution.

2. Due to the current phenomenal socio-economy progress being made in Iran, we ding that the need for improved understanding between the people of the United States and Iran is more crucial than ever.

"The basic series will be aimed at high school through university level students...

"Film Number One on Iran will depict geography, the way of life, the socio-economic conditions, the political structures and realities, the youth and their future aims...

"Film Number Two will depict the past history of Iran. This will include the archaeological facts and artifacts, the tribes, and the contributions of ancient Persia to our modern society...

"MSU will have the exclusive right of distribution in the United States and NIRT will have the exclusive right of distribution in other parts of the world.

"...as NIRT may wish to develop different and additional materials within the framework of this agreement this plan of operation and this agreement have flexibility to provide such activities which may be undertaken with the mutual agreement of both parties."

These diagrams [see Appendix A] give an idea of the driving ideology behind the Iran Film Series. They distort the horrid working conditions of the Iranian people, as well as neglect certain key events in Iran's recent history like the CIA financed and directed coup d'etat of 1953 that put the Shah in power. Compare the "Concepts to be taught" in the diagram at the end of the pamphlet with the chapter "The True Face of Iran."

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As the Shah's government comes under increased fire in the U.S. for its notorious abuse of human rights, it needs an active public relations campaign to purchase the favor of the American people. So naturally, the propaganda arm of the Iranian government, National Iranian Radio and Television (NIRT) grabbed at the offer of MSU profession Mohammed Ali Issari (see box) to produce a series of "instructional" films about Iran for American high school and college students.

"Our reasoning is simple" wrote Issari in his original proposal. "Due to the current phenomenal socio-economic progress being made in Iran (sic -- see the following section entitled "The True Face of Iran"), we find that the need for improved understanding between the people of the United States and Iran is more crucial than ever."

Issari, devoted to the Shah of Iran, continued, "The purpose of this project is to capture on film the new Iran, the country as it is today, as well as its glorious civilization which has contributed so much to world advancement." Wiped away were the Shah's torture chambers, the poverty of the people, the growing resistance. In the films Iran would be transformed into a collection of artifacts, ruins, handicrafts and scenery. Through the emphasis on past history, some of the films would establish a vital link with the Persian empire of 2500 years ago, legitimizing the Shah's rule. The contemporary films would transform the horrible nature of the Shah's social and economic policies into glowing success. The American people would be more deceived than ever about the true nature of Iran.

In December of 1974, MSU and NIRT signed a contract calling for the producton of the films, NIRT is the central authority in Iran governing all broadcast activities. It is the sole television and radio network, and oversees educational media and the training of media technicians. MSU would received close to $248,000 for the films. Some time later, cost overruns pushed the amount up to $320,000. According to a letter to MSY President Wharton from acting Dean of International Programs, Homer Higbee, dated May 12, 1977 (prompted by the Committee to Stop the MSU - Iran Film Project), "The money for this contract ran out in December of 1976. The budget has not yet been approved in Iran, but Professor Issari, director of the film project, is in Iran at this time for discussion of the budget."

Though the number of films has changed almost from month to month, and the cost of the project nearly doubled, the basic content, purpose and effect of the films when completed have not changed.

The current line-up of Iran films include seven films on Iranian history up to 1750. Two other films on contemporary Iran are planned and in the early production stages. According to Higbee's letter to Wharton, "It should be emphasized that there was no political reason for stopping at 1750 -- it was simply that the money was unavailable to do more. If funding is made available, the two parties have agreed that the films numbered 8 an 9, 'Women of Iran' and 'Work of the People', be finished."

The MSU administration is quick to point out that NIRT made no attempt to influence the content of the films. Yet given the scope and purpose of the films, as described in the original proposal, NIRT had no reason to worry that the films would be damaging to the Shah. And given Issari's professed devotion to the Shah's policies, NIRT could rest easily that the production of the films was in sympathetic hands. Issari, on one occasion, said of the Shah, "I think he is a very intelligent person. I think he is doing the best for his country. He is moving if from the 19th century to the 20th, maybe farther." What the Iranian regime wanted in the flms could be guaranteed by MSU's own faculty member. And with MSU's name on the film, who would distrust its contents?

The Iran Film Project is somewhat unique among MSU's international programs in that it is directly aimed at the American people. The primary audience is high school and college students in the U.S., although negatives of the films will be sent to Iran for distribution there. How those films are used by the Iranian educators will be determined by Shah's regime. Here they will merely misdirect attention, paint an inaccurate picture, and cloud the most important issues -- basic human rights -- for students with little understanding of Iran.

Another aspect of the Iran project, more in keeping with MSU's other international programs, involved the training of 33 NIRT employees on the MSU campus in 1975. The party's chief was Mohammed Naficy, who heads NIRT's children's television programming. At that time Kambiz Mahmoudi, deputy director for NIRT was serving as a visiting faculty member at MSU.

In order to achieve the rapid economic development of Iran, the Shah has turned to the U.S. and its universities to provide the education and technical expertise necessary to guide the industrial and military machine. The U.S. and MSU, is willingly providing the necessary support to build the infrastructure for the Shah's vicious state.

In late 1975, the New York Times report that the total value of services provided by or contracted for by American institutions was close to $100 million. "We have much to gain from the expertise of American universities," Fahrang Mehr, chancellor of Pahlavi University (named for the Shah, like most universities in Iran) told the Times. The Shah's regime has links with 59 U.S. universities, projects ranging from the production of films at MSU to training police in computer technology at George Washington University.

The MSU film project is not an isolated project, but a part of a widespread effort by the Shah's regime to strengthen ties with the U.S. and strengthen his own rule in Iran by importing from willing universities the needed techniques and technology.

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Sidebar 1 - Ali Issari

Ali Issari is an associate professor at MSU's Instructional Media Center. He worked with the U.S. Information Agency learning propaganda newsreel production from 1950 to 1965 (which significantly includes the time of the coup d'etat in 1953) and for several years served as the Shah's official cinematographer, accompanying him around the world on state functions. A quote from his book "A Picture of Persia" (pg. 50, Exposition Press, Hickville, NY, 1977) describes a film he planned. "This national anthem film would also include shots of Persepolis, symbolizing the continued monarchy in Iran over a period of 25 hundred years, shots of the Shah with different classes of people and depicting His Majesty as a leader of his nationals, point the way toward a greater civilization." The Shah could find no better local agent than Issari to trust film production to. Issari has been at MSU since 1969.

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Sidebar 2 - U.S. Information Agency

The United States Information Agency is the massive propaganda organ for the United States government. USIA's task, as defined by President Eisenhower when the agency was revised in 1953, is "to submit evidence to peoples of other nations... that the objectives and polices of the United States are in harmony with and will advance their legitimate aspirations for freedom, progress and peace." Its programs which include the Voice of America radio system, a press and publications service, a motion picture service, a television service, libraries, etc., take staggering dimensions around the world. The purpose is to spread Western culture and values and to create an atmosphere favorable for U.S. economic penetration. It devotes special attention to countries which are largely dependent upon the U.S. and in which nationalist popular uprisings threaten the existence of the U.S. in those countries. The channels into Iran were functioning to their fullest capacity during the time of Dr. Mossadegh's premiership. Issari was an administrator for the USIA in Iran during this time.

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Appendix A

Work of the people film diagram thumbnail
Work of the People film outline
Women of Iran film diagram thumbnail
Women of Iran film outline

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