Cease Fire, a Mr & Mrs Smith-style domestic drama by Tahmineh Milani, became the highest-grossing Iranian film of all time last year, taking around $2m at the local box office.

The 2006 top 10 included a mix of melodramas, war films and romantic comedies, including Hassan Fathi's My Big Fat Greek Wedding-inspired Marriage Iranian Style. Overall, say producers, admissions rose by 12.5% last year.

Foreign films, released in a couple of Tehran cinemas, only account for around 6% of the box office, but a penchant for arthouse and 'culturally appropriate' titles saw Ken Loach's Palme d'Or winner The Wind That Shakes The Barley come in at number two (taking around $16,000) on the international top 10, after Lucky Number Slevin and ahead of Michael Haneke's Hidden.

Farabi's Alireza Rezadad says the chronic shortage of theatres - just 250 for a population of around 70 million - holds back the release of foreign films; building more is a key government priority (15 cinemas are under construction).

Others identify censorship as a major factor - although, says Shahin Bazil, head of acquisitions for the main home-video distributor Century 21, the restrictions have softened. Sony is currently the only US major to sell rights to Iran. The impact of piracy, Bazil notes, has seen average sales drop by 50% over the past few years.

The majority of theatres are state-owned, and even independent titles that pass the censors can have their release limited by conservatism and commercial concerns. Bahman Ghobadi's acclaimed Turtles Can Fly, for example, was screened in just two Tehran cinemas, while Abbas Kiarostami rarely sees his films released at home.