Although Rakhshan Bani-Etemad is by no means the only one, she is certainly the leading female contemporary filmmaker in Iran. Her whole output is marked by a strong social and political consciousness and commitment. Born in Teheran in 1954, Bani-Etemad studied film at the University of Dramatic Arts in the Iranian capital.
In 1973 she joined the staff of the national TV as a script girl, then was promoted to assistant director, then producer and manager. In 1977 she began her directing career as a documentary-filmmaker for television. Her documentary approach or touch, remained a constant in her feature film work. "I cannot separate documentary from fiction cinema. I have a constant urge to make documentaries.(.) which does not mean that I would insert documentary shots in a feature film. It rather specifies my outlook and point of view."
Her first full-length feature film, Kharej az Mahdudeh (Off the Limits, 1987), was a satire on bureaucracy. In 1991 she was the first woman to win the Best Director award at Iran's most prestigious Fajr Film Festival with Nargess. (Nargess was first shown in Ljubljana as part of Kinoteka's introduction to Iranian Cinema: Okus Irana). Bani-Etemad's international reputation and recognition continued to grow, winning numerous awards (including the Bronze Leopard at the Locarno film festival for Rusariye Abi (The Blue-Veiled, 1995), and an award from the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development in the Netherlands).
Her first three feature films are comedies with a sharp eye for social satire. The central characters are subjected to events to which they can only react. Men's attempts to improve their lot are subverted. The women in these films tend to be rather background figures. But her later, more personal films focus on strong women living under hard and discriminatory social conditions. Rakhshan Bani-Etemad often puts her finger on taboo subjects such as poverty, crime and forbidden love. Asked about her main topics and the role of women in her films Bani-Etemad said, "I have never decided in advance if my film's subject should deal with men or women. In my film career, I draw a line between films I made before and after Nargess. That is to say, instead of dealing with a woman or a man, my first three films pictured a social situation within which I developed my characters. But from Nargess onward, I use the characters to reflect a social situation."