Responding to a national cinema that was more focused on the business side of film than the artistic, Cinemaye Azad or Free Cinema was created by a group of students in Iran in 1969. A small group of students from Tehran’s Dramatic Arts university established this amateur film group after placing an advertisement that invited people to show 8mm films that were more than just home movies. The group’s name was suggested by film director Fereydoun Rahnama who continued to support the group until his death in 1975. The name was not meant to be a political statement but rather to show the group’s separation from the other branches of cinema in Iran. Basir Nasibi along with four other classmates were the founding members of the group with Nasibi going on to be in charge of the entire group (with branches in 20 cities in Iran) and the Super8 International Film Federation (with more than 15 countries as members). The group initially used a single borrowed camera, the members rotating as crew members for each other’s films. After a year the films that had been created were shown in a theatre in Tehran that specialized in showing experimental films, with great turn out from the public. This screening marked the start of the Free Cinema festivals that were to follow in the subsequent decade.
Within a year of the group’s establishment, other Tehran universities’ students joined the group, followed by other cities in the country joining one by one starting with Ahvaz, eventually totaling 20 cities by the time the group came to an end. Every branch had a supervisor who in turn was overseen by Nasibi. Each city had its own festival that the members of the city competed in; but there were also categories for members from other cities to show their movies. The winners were chosen by the judges, both from Iran and overseas, and were given awards and prize money. For the initial years of the festivals, the awards were made by students in Sharif University workshops, however after a few years it was collectively decided that judges and prizes should be excluded from the festival. Many felt the prizes were causing more harm than good by forcing the participants to make films that were more likely to be popular and therefore follow the commercial cinema’s path, which the group was opposed to.
As the group expanded in the country, they also formed a network with other countries and their amateur film groups, starting with Europe. On October 23, 1975 this network of countries formed the Super8 International Film Federation, with Belgium and later Tehran being the headquarters. By the time Free Cinema dissolved in 1979, 17 countries were a part of this federation. The federation held its own festivals, separate from the Free Cinema festivals. The main festival was held in Iran with smaller ones held in other countries, with foreign members having the opportunity to show their films in a non-competitive category. A second festival was created as a result of the collaboration of Free Cinema and other Asian countries, called Asia Young Filmmakers Festival- later the Asia Pacific Young Filmmakers Festival. Members frequently mentioned as winners in both international and local festivals include Naser Gholamrezayi, Zavan Ghoukasian, Kianoush Ayari and many more.
Shortly after its inception, Free Cinema sent NIRT, National Iranian Radio and Television, a proposal for a TV program to feature the works of its members. Thus began the collaboration between Free Cinema and NIRT that spanned a decade. At first this was the extent of their relationship however, from the fifth year of the activities of the group (1974), NIRT expanded the partnership by providing an official office for the group in Tehran as well as supplying film equipment, producing many of their films and giving opportunities to members to work directly for NIRT.
Free Cinema members were involved in many activities which are covered by the bulletins that the group published for its members. The process of choosing members was simply to accept all who were interested, although with the expansion of the group the candidates who were deemed less prepared to join were waitlisted, and encouraged to apply again later. The chosen members were offered practical workshops as well as lectures by senior members of the group and by professional filmmakers. The free cinema bulletin was first published in 1975, and a new issue was published once every few months until 1978, just after the Islamic revolution began, when the publication was stopped. The bulletin’s contents can be divided in two sections: one section covered biographies and interviews of renowned directors, film essays, etc, while another focused on the Free Cinema itself. It contained interviews with the members, filmmaking tutorials, screenplays of the well-known movies made by the members, such as Dream by Rashid Davari and A Cloudy House by Ibrahim Haghighi, recaps of film festivals related to the group and much more.
In 1978, when the Islamic Revolution began, the Free Cinema office in Tehran was closed due to safety concerns as cinemas around the country were being targeted. Immediately after the revolution succeeded in 1979, the new government ordered Nasibi to only accept revolutionary forces in the group and to guide them in making propaganda films for the government; many limitations were placed on filmmakers within the country. As a result, a week later Free Cinema officially came to an end when Nasibi fled the country in secret.