TEHRAN // Iranian artists, filmmakers and even underground musicians are becoming increasingly vocal in support of their favoured presidential candidates ahead of the June 12 vote, writing songs and filming campaign spots for television.
Although Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the incumbent, and other candidates do have their supporters among artists, it is Mir Hossein Mousavi, a painter and architect himself and widely seen as the president's most serious rival, who is, not surprisingly, gaining more liberal support. Some of the country's leading artists such as the singer and songwriter Mohsen Namjoo and the internationally renowned filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf have issued statements in support of Mr Mousavi.
"Without Mousavi and his support for a national and international cinema [in the 1980s, when he was prime minister] our cinema wouldn't be so celebrated in the world now," Mr Makhmalbaf said in a statement. "I am certain that if Mr Mousavi is elected to the presidency, economic, cultural and artistic conditions will get better than over the past four years and his attitude will reduce international tensions."
Others such as Ali Nasirian, a stage actor, Hedyeh Tehrani, a popular actress, and the directors Pouran Derakhshandeh and Alireza Raisian have also publicly backed Mr Mousavi. Some underground singers, such as Sahand Quazi, a rapper; Amir Tatloo, an R&B singer; and Hadi Pakzad, a rock singer; are now encouraging youth to vote for Mr Mousavi by releasing songs and clips on YouTube and their official websites.
"You have chickened out if you ain't votin', you don't wanna be counted," Quazi sings in one song. "All of us vote, to freedom, to change." The songs are saved on mobile phones or written to CDs and distributed by Mr Mousavi's supporters. Some, like the actresses Bahareh Rahnama, Pegah Ahangarani and Lili Rashidi, have been actively campaigning for Mr Mousavi and have appeared in election rallies to help sway undecided voters.
"As a citizen, a woman and a mother I need to be assured of my social rights such as security, dignity and freedom of expression. And I am not indifferent to our fate. I consider voting and campaigning for one's preferred candidate a duty, especially for artists," Rahnama, who is also a writer, said. The first campaign films from the four candidates - all of which were made by famous filmmakers - were aired on television this week. Mr Ahmadinejad's campaign spot, directed by Javad Shamaghdari, focused on the president's visits to the country's deprived provinces and his affection and concern for the lives of the poor and the needy. Shamaghdari also shot Mr Ahmadinejad's campaign promotion in 2005.
"This film has similarities to the previous one. The most important reason for that is that Ahmadinejad, his thoughts and his beliefs, have not changed. I have tried to make a film that is honest, based on realities and shows the progress the country has made in the past four years," Shamaghdari, who is the president's arts adviser, was quoted by Mehr News Agency as saying. The film impressed many Ahmadinejad supporters.
"I liked Ahmadinejad's film because it portrayed him as he is, as a man of the people who goes to the remotest places in the country to learn about the problems of the ordinary people," said Fatemeh Alai, 23, an office worker. Several leading filmmakers, including the Oscar-nominated Majid Majidi and Dariush Mehrjui have been enlisted by Mr Mousavi to produce and direct his campaign films. The first, directed by Majidi, targeted the same audience as Mr Ahmadinejad's by portraying the former premier's simple lifestyle, his devotion to the Islamic values and his great love for Ayatollah Khomeini, the late leader of the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Curiously enough, his very popular wife, Zahra Rahnavard, and his most influential supporter, Seyed Mohammad Khatami, the former president, were shown only in fleeting scenes of the film. Both have had a significant role in Mr Mousavi's increasing popularity.
"The film had totally ignored us Mousavi supporters as the audience and targeted Ahmadinejad supporters. But maybe they were right in doing so. We have already made up our minds to vote for him so his film should try to appeal to those who haven't and change those voters' minds," said Payam Ebrahimi, 32, a shop assistant, after watching the spot. Reformist Mehdi Karrubi's film, directed by Behrouz Afkhami, focused on Mr Karrubi's promises, including a plan to do away with government censorship in cinema and literature and leave the matter in the hands of the representatives of artists themselves.
"To protect their values, ideologically orientated regimes can become exacting. Karrubi himself is a cleric and can give assurances to the system that values and principles are not in danger," said Ziaeddin Dorri, the director of Mr Karrubi's second campaign film. For millions of Iranians, especially the less educated, campaign films and debates between candidates on television are the only way to know about their platforms.