KARACHI - The cinema of Iran has been flourishing day-by-day. Many popular commercial films are annually made in Iran, and Iranian art films win laurels across the world. Iran organises film festivals on yearly basis. Along with China, Iran has been lauded as one of the best exporters of cinema in the 1990s. Some critics now rank Iran as the world's most important national cinema. World-renowned Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke and German filmmaker Werner Herzog, along with many film critics from all over the world, have praised Iranian cinema as one of the world's most important artistic cinemas. "Iranian cinema" and "Persian cinema" also refer to the cinemas of the Iranian Cultural Continent ("Greater Iran") such as Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The festival refers to all the movies made in Persian language. For Americans, who want to look beyond the reductive image of Iran presented by the US media, Iran's cinema offers an alternative that is fascinating, even astonishing, for its artistic sophistication and passionate humanism. At a time, when Hollywood has put many national cinemas virtually out of business, and Hollywood itself is dominated by special effects-laden fantasies, Iran's filmmakers continue to impress world audiences with their distinctive formal ingenuity and dedication to focus on real-life people and their problems. In the past decade, Iranian films have won nearly 300 awards at international festivals, where directors such as Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf are recognised as the most accomplished artists. Many critics now rank Iran as the world's most important national cinema artistically, with a significance that invites comparison to Italian Neo-realism and similar movements in past decades. Persian films inspired American cinema in 1996. It was Jafar Panahi's "The White Balloon" (winner of the Camera d'Or at Cannes and Best Foreign Film from the New York Film Critics Circle) became the first Iranian film to gain broad art-house distribution in the US. Its success paralleled the following years by that of "Gabbeh" by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, whose films also toured major US museums during 1997 and in early 1998, Abbas Kiarostami's "Taste of Cherry" (winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes in '97). Iranian filmmakers have shown a genius for making virtues out of constraints. Simplicity and realism is the base of all Iranian films. The western-style violence, obscenity and sex are prohibited (actresses must wear the veil at all times, and couples may not even hold hands) which provokes the filmmakers to carefully choose their subjects and practice skilfully indirect, allegorical storytelling. For example, films about children explore Iranian speciality, depicting a form of oblique social commentary and intimate situations that would be harder to effect among adults. Abbas Kiarostami, the Iranian director, mostly acclaimed in the West, makes films that elegantly combine his interests in painting, poetry and philosophy, and that have drawn to comparisons to such world masters as Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa. Iran's culture has deep roots in philosophy and all kinds of literary and artistic achievements, making for an old-aged cosmopolitanism amenable to many innovations including the movies. In the early 1970s, Iran experienced a boom in European-influenced "artistic" filmmaking that included important work by directors. Iranian Culture Centre is playing these films, two films a day from January 29 to February 3, 2009, during evening time at its premises which is open for all.