Hardline Islamic leaders in Tehran have banned most foreign films in an effort to wipe out "corrupt Western culture."
The Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, presided over by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said Iranians had to be protected from the "propaganda of the ideas of secular people, feminists, liberals, nihilists and those that degrade Eastern culture."
The ban is a cultural reversal of the opening to the outside world Iranians had experienced under former reformist president Mohammad Khatami.
The ban is likely to be almost impossible to enforce. Iran's booming black markets distribute scores of pirated Western movies, though few of these movies will ever be shown on local screens.
Iranians also have a taste for Bollywood, and access to foreign satellite feeds that carry both Western and Indian movies and television shows.
Many of Iran's 70 million people are young and say they'll find ways to get around the censorship. Four years ago, Iranian students protested over press censorship.
"A policy of censorship never works. Hardliners don't understand that they can't tell the people what to watch and what not to watch," said cinema fan Hasan Jamali, according to Associated Press.
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In 2003, plays by William Shakespeare returned to an Iranian stage for the first time in 25 years, in a modified form to suit conservative Iranian tastes. Embraces between males and females were omitted from performances.
Even under Khatami's more liberal regime, state censors cleaned up western programs shown on TV, cutting out sections that exposed too much skin or showed men and women touching. Most TV programs selected were crime or action shows.
Ahmadinejad had campaigned for president on a promise to promote Islamic culture and confront what he called the western cultural invasion.
Among the practices Islamic clerics don't want to see on their screens are drug-taking, drinking of alcohol, violence and "oppression."
Critics of the new policy say the terms are so vague that the group of hardline clerics who act as censors will be able to ban almost anything.
Even Iran's acclaimed filmmakers, beginning to make their mark on the world with films such as Stray Dogs and Taste of Cherry, are feeling the chill.
The past three films made by the country's most prominent director, Abbas Kiarostami, have been banned from Iranian cinemas.
Award-winning director Mohsen Makhmalbaf was forbidden to make a new film entitled Amnesia earlier this year. He says he is considering taking production into neighbouring Afghanistan.
"It seems that the new censorship strategy intends to push the Iranian artists to migrate from the country," Makhmalbaf said in a statement.