An adviser to Iran's president on Sunday demanded an apology from a team of visiting Hollywood actors and movie industry officials, including Annette Bening, saying films such as "300" and "The Wrestler" were "insulting" to Iranians.
Without an apology, members of Iran's film industry should refuse to meet with representatives from the nine-member team, said Javad Shamaqdari, the art and cinema adviser to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"In my viewpoint, it is a failure to have an official meeting with one who is insulting," Shamaqdari told The Associated Press.
The film "300," portrays the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., in which a force of 300 Spartans held off a massive Persian army at a mountain pass in Greece for three days. It angered many Iranians for the way Persians are depicted as decadent, sexually flamboyant and evil in contrast to the noble Greeks.
Iranians also criticized "The Wrestler" starring Mickey Rourke as a rundown professional wrestler who is preparing for a rematch with his old nemesis, "The Ayatollah." During a fight scene, "The Ayatollah" tries to choke Rourke with an Iranian flag before Rourke pulls the flagpole away, breaks it and throws it into the cheering crowd.
Neither movie was shown in Iran.
While American actors such as Sean Penn have traveled to Iran, it is rare for such a large group to visit. In February, Iran denied visas to a U.S. women's badminton team that had been invited to compete in a tournament in Iran.
The group includes the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Sid Ganis; actors Bening, and Alfre Woodard; producer William Horberg; AMPAS Special Events Programmer and Exhibitions Curator Ellen Harrington; and Tom Pollock, the former Universal Pictures chairman.
According to the Web site of Iran's Cinema Association, the group arrived Friday in Iran. They met a group of Iranian artists on Saturday, and will be holding educational seminars in directing, screenwriting, acting, producing, marketing and film distribution.
Shamaqdari says Iranians will warmly host the visiting Americans "but it will not stop Iranians from demanding an apology."
Iranian political analyst Saeed Laylaz downplayed Shamaqdari's comments, saying they were meant for domestic consumption. He pointed out that the visit must have been approved by the government.
"It is not likely any American, especially Hollywood people, could visit Iran without Iranian government approval," said Laylaz.
Meanwhile, the visiting Hollywood actors and industry officials held their seminars Sunday as scheduled. During one session, Ali Reza Raisian, the head of the Association of Iranian Directors, said the visit would improve Iran's movie industry.
Most ordinary Iranians were not aware of the visit since state radio and television did not widely report it. But those who had heard said they hoped it would improve relations between the two countries.
"The two countries have tried to wrestle in many ways," said Mahrokh Razani, a self-described movie fan who said he found out about the trip on the Internet. "I hope they can have better ties through movies."
Hossein Taghi, an Iranian businessman who often travels to the U.S., said he was surprised and elated that well-known Hollywood figures would visit Iran.
"This made my family and me very happy," said Taghi. "It is a sign of goodwill by both countries."
The visits come as President Barack Obama has indicated a new willingness to open up relations with Iran.
Relations between the two countries have been strained over concerns in the West that Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapons program, something Tehran denies. The U.S. has also alleged that overwhelmingly Shiite Iran supports Shiite militias in Iraq, which Iran says is not true.
The two countries have not had diplomatic relations since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the hostage-taking at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
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