In Iran, a new wave of repression hits acclaimed filmmakers

In the shadow of a crackdown in Iran this month on protests by ordinary citizens against rising food prices, authorities there have also gone after a widely celebrated sector of Iranian society: filmmakers.

On May 10, as food protests spread across the country, security forces went to the home of Firouzeh Khosrovani and Mina Keshavarz, two internationally renowned documentarians, and arrested them, friends and activists said. Rights.

Around the same time, the homes of at least 10 other directors and documentary producers were raided, and their mobile phones, laptops and hard drives confiscated, Iran’s three main guilds representing the film industry said. in a press release.

Experts called it the biggest crackdown on Iran’s film industry in recent years.

“We demand that this constant environment of fear and insecurity be lifted from the lives and work of our documentary filmmakers,” the guilds statement read.

Another well-known figure in Iran’s film industry, Reihane Taravati, who photographs celebrities and film sets, has also been arrested, according to her friends and the Center for Human Rights in Iran, an independent advocacy group based in New York. York.

Last Tuesday, as movie stars and directors paraded the Cannes red carpet in glittering dresses and tuxedos, Iran quietly released Ms Khosrovani and Ms Keshavarz pending a court hearing.

On Saturday, the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk, an organization that supports filmmakers facing political persecution, said Ms Keshavarz and Ms Khosrovani had been banned from leaving the country for six months. “Such measures are dangerous, and such artists deserve to be cherished, not persecuted,” he said in a statement.

Credit…Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Iranian authorities have not provided a reason for the crackdown, but analysts see it as a warning to the public amid growing discontent, and to documentary filmmakers in particular.

“It’s a bullying tactic that tries to send a message to other Iranians,” said Nader Hashemi, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, which focuses on the Iran. “It’s also an ideological problem that the Islamic Republic has with these filmmakers.”

In recent weeks, street unrest linked to rising food prices has spread to at least 20 Iranian cities, the Center for Human Rights in Iran reported. Teachers’ unions and bus drivers’ unions went on strike, demanding better wages and delayed payments.

Security forces clashed with protesters in several towns. Rights organizations reported that at least two protesters were killed and others were violently suppressed or arrested, including teachers, bus drivers, a prominent journalist, an academic and activists.

Two French nationals were also arrested this month for organizing protests in Iran. Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based press advocacy group, said in a Twitter Publish according to his Persian account last Monday that Iranian intelligence agencies had summoned dozens of journalists in an effort to scare them into silence.

The Iranian government has a strained relationship with the country’s internationally renowned film industry, taking credit for its success abroad while trying to control its messaging and reach.

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi was selected last month to be part of the Cannes festival jury, and two films by Iranian directors, Saeed Roustaee and Ali Abbasi, are part of the official selections.

Last Saturday, Mohammad Khazaei, the director of the Cinema Organization of Iran, a branch of the government that oversees cinema, said in a statement that “presence in international events is one of the key elements of national cinema Iranian”, but reiterated that only films approved for public screening in Iran could be submitted to foreign competitions.

Mr Roustaee said in an email that his film, “The Brothers of Leila”, did not have permission to screen from the Ministry of Culture in Iran and that government officials had blamed him for sending the film at Cannes without their approval. He said they also sent him a list of items that needed to be edited or censored to get the screening permit.

“I won’t give in to censorship,” he said, adding that the list targeted several of the film’s most important and dramatic scenes. “I don’t want my film to be mutilated.”

In recent years, Iran has arrested or prosecuted prominent filmmakers, such as Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, accused of spreading propaganda against the government.

“Not only widespread censorship, but also the involvement of security agencies in the film industry, has reduced the job security of filmmakers to the lowest possible level,” reads a letter signed by more than 50 filmmakers and actors and published on M. Rasoulof’s website. Instagram page after the recent crackdown.

Many Iranian filmmakers have still managed to strike a delicate balance in producing their work, using personal and intimate allegories and narratives to portray the larger struggles plaguing Iranians.

“We know that the Iranian government has red lines that we have to follow,” said Farzad Jafari, an Iranian filmmaker who is also a member of the guild. “We all know it, so we follow it.”

In Ms Khosrovani’s latest film, ‘Radiography of a Family’, which won Best Documentary Feature at the Amsterdam International Documentary Festival in 2020, she explored the country’s tumultuous history through the relationship of his parents.

The film depicts the impact of the 1979 Iranian revolution by focusing on the growing distance between his Western-leaning father and his religious mother, who became a loyal servant of the revolution that overthrew the monarchy. Paintings, art objects and wine disappeared from his house and music was refused.

“It’s been the experience of my life to be torn between two poles,” Ms Khosrovani said in an interview in 2021 when her film screened at New Directors/New Films, an annual festival in New York. “This dichotomy inside the home is the same as the dichotomy in our society.”

In Ms. Keshavarz’s film ‘Braving the Waves’, she told the story of a woman from rural Iran who set up a bazaar that employs hundreds of local women, which local male officials want to tear down .

Ms Khosrovani and Ms Keshavarz were released on bail after their families provided title deeds as collateral, their friends said, and none of the three women arrested have been formally charged. Mr. Jafari said authorities returned the equipment and hard drives of Ms. Khosrovani and Ms. Keshavarz, but not other items seized during the searches.

As the arrests and raids sow anxiety among Iran’s creative arts community, Ahmad Kiarostami, the director of an Iranian documentary festival in the United States, said he doubted such a crackdown would deter artists. Iranian documentary filmmakers, who have deliberately gone down a dangerous path with little money. reward.

“It’s almost impossible to make money from movies. They do it out of passion, it’s pure love,” he said.. “I think no one can stop this passion.

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