OF KINGS AND PAINTINGS is a history of the extraordinary art of Iran from 1785 to 1925. The documentary is the first film to explore the work of Iran's most significant artists of this remarkable era that straddled the transition between tradition and modernity. While offering an overview of painters and paintings of the Qajar era and its influence on Iranian artists and photographers today, the film weaves together art history and Persian history.

*** "An outstanding documentary...Strongly recommended." - Video Librarian


Areas of Study:
Islamic Art and Art History
Near and Middle Eastern Studies
Persian Culture and History
History of Photography

Running time: 58 min.
Subtitles: English (SDH), German, French, Persian

About the Film

OF KINGS AND PAINTINGS is a lavish history of the extraordinary art that was commissioned during the Qajar Dynasty (1785 - 1925), and an exploration of the world that created it. In interviews with history and art experts, the film explores this remarkable era in Iranian history that straddled the transition between tradition and modernity. Exploring the lives and works of such prominent painters as Sani al-Mulk and Kamal al-Mulk, the film looks at the multiple ways in which the art of the Qajar era evolved, from the use of traditional Iranian painting elements to techniques of European painting, aided by the use of the new invention of photography. Qajar art has gained prominence all over the world with exhibitions in France at the Louvre and the United States. While offering an overview of painters and paintings of the period and its continued legacy, OF KINGS AND PAINTINGS weaves together art history and Persian history, to look deeply at the art and culture of an era we know little about.

Experts interviewed in the film include Professor of History Abbas Amanat of Yale University, Dr. Layla Diba, independent curator and scholar of 19th and 20th century Iranian art, and Dr. Maryam Ekhtiar of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. More than 125 high definition examples of the art of the Qajar Dynasty are showcased, along with 40 photographs of the era.

The Director Sara Nodjoumi

Sara Nodjoumi is an independent filmmaker and festival programmer who has produced films for ITVS, Motto Pictures, Catapult Film Fund, and Fork Films, and has been supported by numerous foundations including the Sundance Institute, Jerome Foundation, and NYSCA. Her 2017 film WHEN GOD SLEEPS premiered in competition at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival and went on to win a number of international awards including the Golden Heynal Award for Best Music Doc at the Krakow Film Festival and Most Valuable Film of the Year from Cinema for Peace in Berlin, in addition to being shortlisted for a German Academy Award in 2018. Her 2018 feature documentary REGGAE BOYZ, about the healing power of soccer and music in Jamaica, delighted audiences from Berlin to the Bahamas and earned a nomination for best feature documentary from the German Television Academy. It had its US Premiere at the 2019 Brooklyn Film Festival where it won the Audience Award.

About the film OF KINGS AND PAINTINGS, she says, "Both my parents are Iranian artists. Growing up I was exposed to Iranian art of the 19th and 20th Century either through my parents or their friends. Whether it was art openings, or conversations between the artists, one topic always came up and that was Qajar art. My interest grew when I attended the opening of the Brooklyn Museum exhibition in 1998 curated by Layla Diba and Maryam Ekhtiar. Since then I've been curious about this time frame in Iran and always wanted to learn more. When the opportunity arose to direct this film, it felt like a natural fit. I've learned so much through this process, about Iran, about Qajar art, who the Qajar's were, and the history of art during this period."

Director's Filmography

  • Of Kings and Paintings, 2019
  • Reggae Boyz, 2018
  • When God Sleeps, 2017
  • The Iran Job, 2012
  • Santa Smokes, 2004
  • I Call Myself Persian: Iranians in America 2003

The Producer Mehran Haghighi

"It would not be wrong to say that the world has seen only a glimpse into the extraordinary world of Iranian art and culture," says Mehran Haghighi, the producer of OF KINGS AND PAINTINGS. "And what is most lacking is a view of Iran's artistic and visual communication, that is virtually unknown to the rest of the world. A large pool of written resources exists about Iranian (Persian) history and its scientific and cultural achievements, but almost no such information is conveyed through the visual medium."

With the goal to set that right, Haghighi's twenty-five years as a filmmaker and producer led him to produce OF KINGS AND PAINTINGS, a film that showcases the visual aspects of Iranian art, history and culture that does not yet exist in the mainstream of educational documentaries. "There is a sea of educational documentaries about European, Asian, and African countries art; why not about Iranian?" adds Haghighi. "I want educators and the general public, to come to understand Iran and its heritage through learning about Iranian art."

Haghighi began his filmmaking career in 1991 by co-founding Behnegar, a production and distribution company in Iran. In a span of 20 years at Behnegar, he was involved in the production and distribution of several fiction feature films, some of which were co-produced with filmmakers from France, Japan, Tunisia, and Germany. Five of the 13 films he worked on were recognized with industry awards, including the feature film Djomeh (Iran, France 2000), recipient of the Camera d'Or in Cannes 2000; Wind Carpet (Iran, Japan 2003); and Bab'Aziz: The Prince Who Contemplated His Soul (Iran, France, Tunisia Germany, and England 2005), recipient of Best Feature Film at the Golden Minbar Film Festival.

After living for many years in Iran, Haghighi moved to the US in 2013. In 2016, he established Homa Films, a production and distribution company focused on producing films that showcase Iranian heritage, history, art and culture. His films are meant to serve as informational and entertaining resources in the field of Iranian studies, to help raise awareness and appreciation of Iran's fascinating and important heritage.


"This video is an excellent introduction to Qajar art. There are voluminous examples of work shown, both in full and in close-up detail. The commentary is informative, without being too technical or overly scholarly. The video is therefore recommended both to academic libraries and public libraries with a strong art collection or significant Iranian population."

Educational Media Review Online (EMRO)

"An outstanding documentary that lavishly and informatively explores the evolution of palace art during Iran's Qajar Dynasty (1785-1925), "Of Kings and Paintings" puts things in an interesting historical context right from the start. Showing a 19th century map in which Iran, known at the time as Persia, is clearly squeezed between Russia and British-occupied India, the film underscores the importance of Persia sending signals that foreign occupiers and would-be colonizers should think twice about invading. Toward that end, a succession of Shahs during the Qajar era surrounded themselves with artists and poets to, essentially, brand them, creating images of Persia's rulers the latter particularly wanted to convey in a dangerous world. Explaining the significance of details in murals and portraits of Shahs, several experts on Iran's art antiquities tell us how images of fictional characters and European leaders added to myths built around one or another Shah, exalting them each in unique ways tailored to given moments in global dynamics. Happily, we get to see many of these artworks from over 200 years in all their lavish glory. Strongly recommended."

Tom Keogh, Video Librarian

"'Of Kings and Paintings' is an extraordinary documentary, and such a valuable resource to teach about the incredible Qajar period of art in Iran. I liked that the documentary covered so many angles- art historical, historical, past exhibitions and that it was presented from an interdisciplinary perspective. It was a pleasure to view it."

Dr. Laura-Maria Popoviciu
Curator: Research & Information (Historical)
Government Art Collection, London

"'Of Kings and Paintings' is a superbly done film that traces, for the first time, the complete art history of Qajar painting and its extraordinary evolution from the founding of the dynasty to its demise. Its focus on individual paintings and painters examines specific works of art rarely seen by or inaccessible to the wider public. It is an excellent resource for academics and researchers and a valuable contribution to the study of Qajar Iran."

Professor Talinn Grigor
Chair of Art History Program
Dept. of Art and Art History
University of California, Davis

"It was a pleasure to work with Mehran Haghighi, Sara Nodjoumi and distinguished scholars of Qajar history and art, Abbas Amanat and Layla Diba, in creating this stunning documentary. "Of Kings and Paintings" is the first film to focus on the art of the Qajar period with an emphasis on portraiture and its evolution in nineteenth century Iran. It will serve as a valuable and visually compelling resource for academics, researchers, students and lovers of Persian art and culture."

Maryam Ekhtiar, Curator
Department of Islamic Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

"'Of Kings and Paintings' is excellent in the way it presents great, seductive and utterly unique art. The informative commentary by first-rate historians only adds to the documentary's quality, providing context to the little-known artistic legacy of Qajar Iran."

Rudi Matthee
Distinguished Professor of
Middle Eastern History
University of Delaware

"…Masterfully done! 'Of Kings and Paintings' traces without bias...the complex history of the early Qajars all the way through Naser al-Din Shah with ease and accuracy, without dwelling on the details and controversies that would have taken it into polemical territory. Both the cinematography and editing are excellent, and the commentaries by Drs. Amanat, Diba and Ekhtiyar add further depth and dimensionality. The second part of the film, from the reign of Mozaffar al-Din Shah to the early Pahlavi era and beyond to the adaptation of Qajar art by contemporary artists, could not be more timely. It is a good coincidence that both LACMA and the Broad have exhibits of Ghadirian and Neshat currently, which reflect the continued relevance of Qajar art. Congratulations on a job extremely well done."

Manoutchehr Eskandari-Qajar
Director of Middle East Studies
Santa Barbara Community College

Running time: 58 min.

Subtitles: English (SDH), German, French, Persian

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Public performance rights are granted for organizational or library use by the acquiring institution for non-paying audiences less than 50 only. To schedule a broadcast or for large audience or ticketed screenings, contact Homa Films at (+1) 405 255 9988. Speaking engagements can also be arranged.

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