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 pricesThe authorities there have also pursued a well-known 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 documentary filmmakers, and arrested them, friends and human rights activists said.

At the same time, the homes of at least 10 other producers and documentaries were raided, confiscating their mobile phones, laptops and hard drives, the three main associations representing the electronics sector. Iran’s photo said in statement.

Experts call it the biggest crackdown on the Iranian film industry in recent years.

“We demand that this perpetual environment of fear and insecurity be removed from the lives and work of our documentary filmmakers,” the association said in a statement.

Another well-known figure in the Iranian film industry, Reihane Taravati, who specializes in photographing celebrities and film sets, was also arrested, according to her friends and family members. Center for Human Rights in Iranan independent advocacy group based in New York.

This past Tuesday, as movie stars and directors walked the Cannes red carpet in sparkling gowns and tuxedos, Iran quietly released Ms. Khosrovani and Ms. Keshavarz pending the trial.

On Saturday, the International Union for Filmmakers at Risk, an organization that helps filmmakers facing political repression, said Ms Keshavarz and Ms Khosravani had been banned from leaving the country for a period of time. six months. “Such measures are dangerous and such artists deserve respect, not arrest,” it said. in a statement.

Credit…Photos by Andreas Rentz / Getty

Iranian authorities have not given a reason for the crackdown, but analysts see it as a warning to the general public amid growing discontent, and to activists documentaries in particular.

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

In recent weeks, street unrest caused by soaring food prices has spread to at least 20 Iranian cities, the Iranian Center for Human Rights reported. The teachers union and bus driver union went on strike, demanding higher wages and overdue payments.

Security forces clashed with protesters in several cities. Human rights organizations have reported that at least two protesters were killed and others were brutally suppressed or arrested, including a teacher, a bus driver, a prominent journalist, a scholars and activists.

Two French nationals were also arrested this month on charges of organizing protests in Iran. Reporters Without Borders, a press advocacy group based in Paris, said on Twitter upload from their Persian account last Monday that Iran’s intelligence agencies had summoned dozens of journalists in an attempt to silence them.

The Iranian government has close ties to the country’s internationally acclaimed film industry, which enjoys success abroad but still tries to control its message and reach.

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi was selected last month to be a member of the jury of the Cannes festival, and two films by Iranian directors, Saeed Roustaee and Ali Abbasi, among official options.

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

Mr. Roustaee said in an email that his film, “Leila’s Brothers,” was not authorized to be screened by Iran’s Ministry of Culture and that government officials reprimanded him for sending the film to Cannes without their approval. He said they also sent him a list of elements that needed to be changed or censored in order to get a screening license.

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

Over the past few years, Iran has arrested or prosecuted prominent directors, such as Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, on charges of conducting anti-government propaganda.

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

Many Iranian filmmakers still manage to strike a delicate balance in the production of their work, using personal and intimate allegories and stories to depict broader struggles. caused to the 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 association. “We all know this, so we follow it.”

In Khosravani’s latest film, “X-Rays of a Family,” Winner of the Best Documentary Feature at the 2020 Amsterdam International Documentary Festival, she explores the country’s tumultuous history through her parents’ relationship.

The film depicts the impact of the Iranian revolution of 1979 by focusing on the growing gap between her Western-leaning father and her devout mother, who became the revolution’s faithful servant. The network overthrows the monarchy. Paintings, art objects, and alcohol disappeared from her home, and the music was turned off.

“This has been my lifelong experience of being torn between two poles,” Khosrovani said in one interview in 2021 when her film is shown in New Director / New Movie, an annual festival in New York. “The dichotomy inside this house is the same as the dichotomy in our society.”

In Miss Keshavarz’s film, “Braving the Waves,” She tells the story of a woman from rural Iran who set up a market to recruit hundreds of local women, something local male officials wanted to get rid of.

Their friends said Ms. Khosravi and Ms. Keshavarz were released on bail after their families provided proof of their assets and that none of the three women arrested have been formally charged. Mr Jafari said authorities returned Khosrovani and Keshavarz’s devices and hard drives but did not return other items seized during the raids on the home.

While the arrests and raids have worried Iran’s creative arts community, Ahmad Kiarostami, head of the Iranian documentary festival in the United States, said he doubts such repression can do discouraged Iranian documentary filmmakers, who deliberately took a dangerous path with little money. prize.

“It is almost impossible to make money from movies. They do it for passion, it’s pure love”, he said. “I don’t think anyone can stop this passion.”

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