Starting in the inaugural year in 1967, the festival screened films on a daily basis to packed audiences, most of them youth, initially at Capri and Paramount cinemas, and from the third year, at Aryana, a newly-built and well-equipped cinema owned and operated by Shahrokh Golestan, himself a filmmaker and Shiraz native. The selection focused on international masterpieces on the one hand, including retrospectives of Bergman and Satyajit Ray (1971) and Bunuel (1974); notable contemporary films by the likes of Joseph Losey, Tony Richardson, Ken Russell, Istvan Szabo; and the new generation of Iranian filmmakers on the other.
The first movie screened at the inaugural festival in 1967 was writer-director Fereydoun Rahnema’s Siyavash in Persepolis, a cinematic experiment with the mythic characters from the Shahnameh wandering about the ruins of Persepolis, reflecting on the past and the present. The film had won the Jean Epstein Prize at the 1966 Locarno Festival for its innovative exploration of film language.
The festival organized an unusual and important program in 1970 when the theme was ‘theatre and ritual,’ during which the French filmmaker and anthropologist, considered a pioneer of visual anthropology, Jean Rouch, screened his uncut footage of African rituals, among them, the tribal ceremonies of the Dogon in Mali.
The programs that were organized around themes included, in 1975, Musicals from the Golden Age of Hollywood and beyond, and in 1977, “Japan: History through Cinema,” which screened the masterpieces of Ichikawa, Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Oshima, Ozu and Terayama.
On the 10th anniversary of the festival in 1976, the theme of the film program was the East as seen by filmmakers, ranging from silent movies to sound. The program included Ernest B. Schoedsack, Grass (1926), Vsevolod Pudovkin, Storm over Asia (1928), a documentary on China, co-directed by Léon Poirier and Andre Sauvage, The Yellow Cruise (1935), and Azalea Mountain, a Chinese model opera made into film (1974). Films on India included Satyajit Rey, Devi (1960), Jean Renoir, River (1951), Roberto Rosselini’s documentary drama, India: Matri Bhumi (1959), and Margueritte Duras, India Song (1975). The “East” theme also included Sergei Parajanov’s masterpiece, The Color of Pomegranates (1968) (“Sayat Nova” original title) that had been removed from circulation in the Soviet Union and was first shown at the festival in Shiraz; Giorgi Shengelaye, Pirosmani (1969), Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1001 Nights (1974), Chadi Abdel Salam, The Mummy (1969), and Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Pharaoh (1966). Iranian filmmakers in this category included Arby Ovanessian, Cheshmeh (Spring) (1971), Rahnema (Pesar-e Iran az Madarash Bikhabar Ast (The Son of Iran is Unaware of his Mother)(1973), and Parviz Kimiavi, Baghpe Sangi (The Stone Garden ‘76).
A number of Iranian movies that were banned or held up by censorship were released and screened for the first time at the festival, two groundbreaking works by Dariush Mehrjoui, Gaav (Cow, made in ‘69) and Dayere Mina (The Cycle, ’75); and Nasser Taqva’i’s Aramesh dar Hozoure Digaran (Tranquility in the Presence of Others, ‘70).
The new generation of Iranian filmmakers whose films, feature-length, documentary or short, were screened at the festival included Kimiavi, Mogholha (Mongols, ‘73), who also made several documentaries, including Ya Zamen-e Ahou (Oh, Protector of Gazelles, ‘70) and P Like Pelikan (‘73), Sohrab Shahid-Saless, Tabi’at-e Bijaan (Still Life, ‘74), and Dar Qorbat (In Exile, ‘75). Other documentary filmmakers who participated in the festival were Ahmad Faroughi, Telegraph (’66), and Parseeyan-e Hend (Parsees of India, ’70); Jalal Moghaddam, Mashhad (’67); Taqva’i Baad-e Jenn (’69) and Zohr-e Ashura (‘71). Iranian shorts included Khosrwo Sina’i, Aan Su-ye Hayahou (Beyond Pandemonium, ‘68); and Shokoufeh Shakeri, Sarab (Mirage, ‘71); Nasib Nassibi, Che Haraasi Daarad Zolmat-e Rouh (The Fearful Darkness of the Soul, ‘72) and an animation by Nosrate Karimi, Zendegi (Life, ‘69).
The festival itself was the subject of several documentaries by Jalal Moghaddam, Shiraz va Jashn-e Honar (‘68), François Reichenbach, Images, Rhythms, and Percussion (’69), Kimiavi, Jashn-e Honar-e Haftad (’70), and Taqv’i, The Fifth Festival of Arts (’71).