Cannes (France) (AFP) - Iran has significantly stepped up its presence at the cinema market of the Cannes Film Festival this year as Tehran opens up to the world ahead of a possible suspension of Western sanctions.
For the first time since 2009 Iran's government has splurged tens of thousands of euros (dollars) to rent a stand-alone pavilion on the glittering port of the French Riviera town, a culture ministry official manning it told AFP.
"It's the first time in six years" Iran has had such a tent-office flying its national flag and promoting national cinema production, said the ministry's international affairs director, Arash Amini.
"Under the new government, we thought we should open the doors and improve our artistic, cultural relations with other cultures, other countries. That's our overall policy," he said.
The step is another sign of efforts by Iran's relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani to do away with the more isolationist stances of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Iran and world powers have been negotiating a deal that would see the Islamic state curb its nuclear programme in exchange for relief from the Western sanctions that have crippled its economy.
An interim accord has brought a small easing in the strictures, but a broader suspension will only happen if a full agreement is struck by a June 30 deadline.
Under Ahmadinejad, Iran whittled down its Cannes presence to a bare-bones stand tucked away inside a crowded, labyrinthine market area, despite movie export successes such as 2011's Oscar-winning "A Separation".
That Cannes market stand was still running this year, with three women wearing hijabs (Islamic headscarves) behind the counter.
But it was Amini who was handling from the seaside pavilion the high-level business of selling Iranian movies and checking out other films for Iranian film festivals.
He said Asian interest in Iranian cinema is strong, especially China wanting its sensitive family dramas.
Amini said the sanctions had little effect on Iran movie sector, but predicted the current lessening of some sanctions "will improve things a bit for transferring money".
If a full nuclear/sanctions deal were struck in June, he said, "that would surely improve things. We hope that things will become a lot easier".