They were brought into the country by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (yeah, they're the Oscars people), for "Up Close & Personal: Iranian Filmmakers in Their Own Words"
It brought me up a little short - even though the speakers seemed fairly resigned to it, the idea that you can't leave your country just because your government decides you can't is frightening. (they were literally stopped at the airport apparently - even though they had already received approvals on the visas and everything) The translator stressed that they weren't in police custody or anything, they were just not allowed to leave the country, as if that should have been much more reassuring.
Things I didn't know about Iranian film: Um, everything?
They've had a film industry there since 1900, though the first film wasn't shown in theatres until the 1930s. There's a populist style of filmmaking that locates itself somewhere between mainstream hollywood films and bollywood films. The art-filmmakers emerged and identified themselves themselves with the french avaunt-guarde (go figure - everybody loves those guys).
One of the most revealing things they said went a little something like this:
Most of the national cinemas look at Hollywood and want to emulate it's distribution, it's traditions, and it's studio system and the like. However, we don't. Even though we have to work within some restrictions [their government has to actually approve scripts before they start filming, and then after the film is done they assess a rating / if it's ok for distribution] we are making films in an entirely different way - through government support, through our own distribution system, and not through some Hollywood-mimic. And we feel that Iranian cinema has something to say to the world and that the world is listening.
All in all they were far more apt to joke around than I thought they would be, and were far more interested in giving advice to young filmmakers than I cared for (but that's ok, it was probably good for other people to hear that).
Really interesting day though