In a new statement shared at the Venice Film Festival, imprisoned Iranian filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rosoulof said the “hope of re-creation” is a “raison d’être”.
Venice showed solidarity with persecuted filmmakers in Iran and Turkey at a session co-organized with the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk (ICFR) that highlighted the plight of creatives in those countries and the remaining work — and funds — needed to gathering awareness of their enormous struggle and struggle for civil liberties.
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Iran, in particular, is seeing a major crackdown on the film community. In early July, Mohammad Rasoulof, winner of the 2020 Berlin Golden Bear for There Is No Evil, and fellow director Mostafa Al-Ahmad were arrested for posting a statement on social media following a violent government crackdown. A few days later, the dissident Iranian writer Jafar Panahi, known worldwide for award-winning works such as “Offside” and “Taxi”, was also arrested after asking about his imprisoned peers.
In the joint statement, distributed to reporters at a Saturday press conference for the Lido, the filmmakers said: “We are filmmakers. We are part of the independent Iranian cinema. For us, to live is to create. We create projects that are not commissioned. Therefore, those in power see us as criminals. Independent cinema reflects its own times. It draws inspiration from society. And it cannot be indifferent to it.
“The history of Iranian cinema is witness to the continuous and active presence of independent directors who fought to push back censorship and ensure the survival of this art. While on this path, some were banned from making films, others were forced into exile or confined to solitary confinement. And yet, the hope of creation again is reason for existence. No matter where, when or under what circumstances, an independent filmmaker either creates or thinks about creating. We are filmmakers, independent.”
Introducing the panel that followed, Roberto Cicutto, president of the Biennale, said that the organization’s political role is not “to give political judgment but to make available to the world a stage that can be under everyone’s control for others to design the their consequences and to judge the situations that are created”.
Leading the way was the ICFR, which was launched in Venice in 2020 to “activate the collective response of the film community to cases of filmmakers facing serious risk”.
“We are here to sound a very loud alarm,” said founding member Vanja Kaludjercic. “In three years, there has been a huge increase in censorship and imprisonment of filmmakers. The world and society in general is in a much worse state than it was two years ago. Our concerns are deeper than ever.”
The body has so far raised 420,000 euros ($418,000) to help filmmakers in Ukraine. About 400 filmmakers have received micro-funds of 400-500 euros ($398-497) each. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, ICFR aimed to help 800 at-risk creatives and was able to help successfully relocate 60% of that group.
Attention is now firmly focused on Iran, where high-profile cases such as those of Panakhi and Rasulov have mobilized the international community. Kaveh Farnam, an Iranian producer, claimed at the hearing that Panahi’s arrest was premeditated by the government, as it had released a newscast shortly after the arrests using the previous day’s date.
“A few weeks before, they had arrested some documentary makers,” Farnam said. “This time, they broke the news themselves. It was ready news. There was a message: “This is the beginning of direct, physical harassment and attacks on independent Iranian cinema.” These events in the last two months prove that it is not only the arrest of Mohammad Rasoulof. It was an attack on Iranian cinema.”
Elsewhere in the meeting, Turkish producer Sinem Sakaoglu discussed the case of producer and journalist Çiğdem Mater, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison, along with six co-defendants. The main charge against her is that she was trying to raise funding for a documentary project about the Gezi Park movement that never actually happened.
“It’s a joke,” Sakaoglu said.
Mike Downey, president of the ICFR, closed the session by underscoring the duty of care shared by the international film community.
“ICFR has had these three big situations come our way in our first three years,” Downey said. “There will be something else and that’s the tragedy of what we’re doing here.”
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