TEHRAN JOURNAL : As the veteran American director took the stage at Iran's *Fajr International  Film Festival*, the audience stood up, clapping and cheering.

Young men wearing round sun glasses and women with purple-dyed hair peeking out from under their compulsory headscarves watched as scenes from ''Platoon'', ''Midnight Express'', ''JFK'' and  ''Any Given Sunday'' appeared on the screen.

The clip ended with the introduction of the guest of honor : ''American writer and director, Oliver Stone.''

''You make it seem as if I am dead already.'' Mr. Stone, 71, joked.Typically, Iranian hard-liners try to prevent prominent Americans, even harsh critics of United States policies like Mr. Stone. from obtaining visas.

But in his case other forces had prevailed. Iranian politics are divided by those opposing any approach by America and those who feel there should be an outreach.

Now, the American was the guest of honor at an event that, like Iranian society, had undergone major changes in recent years.

Established to celebrate the anniversary of  the Islamic revolution, the festival has grown more independent, riding a wave of  international prizes for Iranian films, including two recent Oscars.

More than 350 foreign guests, selected from  hundreds of applicants traveled to the Iranian capital to see the premier of 35 films at festival, held in a shopping centre in central Tehran, and to listen to concerts of music from films.

There were, among others,  Russians, Indians, Georgians, Europeans, Iraqis, Syrians.

Some people visited Tehran's Cinema Museum or an exhibition of the French art by the Louvre, while others made a pilgrimage, to the city's sprawling cemetery, where they paid respects to the martyrs of the Iran-Iraq war.

''We want to show people that we are not  North Korea,'' said Reza Kianian, a prominent Iranian actor who is festival ambassador.

''When our guests walk on the streets, they see a Church, a Mosque and a Synagogue all in the same block,'' he said.

''This is not the country you think it is.''

Iran's  award-winning cinema industry is another example, Mr. Kianian said. Two of the director Asghar Farhadi's films have won Academy awards for best foreign language film   - ''A Separation''  in 2012 and  ''The Salesman''  in 2017.

''With the festival and inviting so many foreign guests we also want to show that while we have hardliners, most of our artists are not like this.'' he added.

Iranians often suffer from the image presented by  hard-liners  shouting ''Death to America.'' an extremist view not shared by the majority of Iranians.

Unlike Hollywood, where movie stars walk the  red carpet  and wave to their fans from behind  velvet ropes, the stars of the  Iranian cinema interacted freely ordinary people at the festival.

!WOW! thanks author and researcher Thomas Erdbrink.


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