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Source: Variety

May 13, 2024

Mohammad Rasoulof Flees Iran for Europe After Receiving 8-Year Prison Sentence for Cannes-Bound ‘Seed of the Sacred Fig’

By Nick Vivarelli

Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof has left Iran and traveled to Europe clandestinely after being sentenced to eight years in prison by the country’s authorities, who pressured him to pull his latest work “The Seed of the Sacred Fig” from the Cannes Film Festival and harassed the film’s producers and actors.

“We are very happy and much relieved that Mohammad has safely arrived in Europe after a dangerous journey,” said Jean-Christophe Simon, CEO of Films Boutique and Parallel45, who are distributing the film. “We hope he will be able to attend the Cannes premiere of ‘The Seed of the Sacred Fig’ in spite of all attempts to prevent him from being there in person.”

However, it remains unclear whether Rasoulof will be able to attend the Cannes world premiere of “Sacred Fig” on May 24, his Cannes publicist and French distributor also noted.

Rasoulov is among Iran’s most prominent directors even though none of his films have screened in Iran where they have always been banned. In 2011, the year he won two prizes at Cannes with his censorship-themed “Goodbye,” he was sentenced with fellow director Jafar Panahi to six years in prison and a 20-year ban on filmmaking for alleged anti-regime propaganda.

His sentence was later suspended and he was released on bail. In 2017 Iranian authorities confiscated Rasoulof’s passport upon his return from the Telluride Film Festival where his “A Man of Integrity,” about corruption and injustice in Iran, had screened.

He was not allowed by Iranian authorities to attend Berlin in 2020. The director’s daughter, Baran Rasoulof, who stars in “There Is No Evil” — which consists of four connected episodes centered on the death penalty and repression of personal freedom in Iran — accepted the fest’s top prize on her father’s behalf.

In a statement issued from an undisclosed location, Rasoulof has described the repression of his “Sacred Fig” team in Iran and asked the international film community for “effective support.” 

Here is Mohammad Rasoulof’s full statement:

“I arrived in Europe a few days ago after a long and complicated journey. About a month ago, my lawyers informed me that my eight-year prison sentence was confirmed in the court of appeal and would be implemented on short notice. Knowing that the news of my new film would be revealed very soon, I knew that without a doubt, a new sentence would be added to these eight years. I didn’t have much time to make a decision. I had to choose between prison and leaving Iran. With a heavy heart, I chose exile. The Islamic Republic confiscated my passport in September 2017. Therefore, I had to leave Iran secretly. 

Of course, I strongly object to the unjust recent ruling against me that forces me into exile. However, the judicial system of the Islamic Republic has issued so many cruel and strange decisions that I do not feel it is my place to complain about my sentence. Death sentences are being executed as the Islamic Republic has targeted the lives of protesters and civil rights activists. It’s hard to believe, but right now as I’m writing this, the young rapper, Toomaj Salehi is held in prison and has been sentenced to death. The scope and intensity of repression has reached a point of brutality where people expect news of another heinous government crime every day. The criminal machine of the Islamic Republic is continuously and systematically violating human rights.

Before the Islamic Republic’s intelligence services were informed about my film’s production, a number of the actors managed to leave Iran. However, many of the actors and agents of the film are still in Iran and the intelligence system is pressuring them. They have been put through lengthy interrogations. The families of some of them were summoned and threatened. Due to their appearance in this movie, court cases were filed against them, and they were banned from leaving the country. They raided the office of the cinematographer, and all his work equipment was taken away.

They also prevented the film’s sound engineer from traveling to Canada. During the interrogations of the film crew, the intelligence forces asked them to pressure me to withdraw the film from the Cannes Festival. They were trying to convince the film crew that they were not aware of the film’s story and that they had been manipulated into participating in the project. 

Despite the vast limitations I and my colleagues and friends faced while making the film, I tried to achieve a cinematic narrative that is far from the narrative dominated by the censorship in the Islamic Republic, and closer to its reality. I have no doubt that restricting and suppressing freedom of expression cannot be justified even if it becomes a spur for creativity, but when there is no way, a way must be made.

The world’s cinema community must ensure effective support for the makers of such films. Freedom of speech should be defended, loudly and clearly. People who courageously and selflessly confront censorship instead of supporting it are reassured of the importance of their actions by the support of international film organizations. As I know from personal experience, it can be an invaluable help for them to continue their vital work. 

Many people helped to make this film. My thoughts are with all of them, and I fear for their safety and well-being.”

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