Director Mohammad Rasoulof Has Left Iran Without Official Permission 


Celebrated Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof has confirmed that he has managed to leave his home country and is currently staying in an undisclosed location in Europe, raising the possibility that he might be present at the world premiere of his most recent film THE SEED OF THE SACRED FIG, screening in Competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Jean-Christophe Simon, CEO of Films Boutique and Parallel45, states: “We are very happy and much relieved that Mohammad has safely arrived in Europe after a dangerous journey. 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.”

News of his clandestine departure comes shortly after his sentencing to eight years in prison as well as flogging, a fine, and confiscation of property by Iran’s Revolutionary Court. As Rasoulof’s lawyer Babak Paknia said on X following the sentencing, “The main reason for issuing this sentence is for signing statements and making films and documentaries. In the court’s opinion, these actions were examples of collusion with the intention of committing a crime against the country’s security.

Rasoulof has been banned from leaving Iran since 2017. He served jail time from July 2022 to February 2023, and was released early due to general amnesty for thousands of prisoners in Iran following widespread protests. Shortly after his release, he was notified there was a new case opened against him, this time about his film There Is No Evil (2020) that in his enforced absence won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival..

Rasoulof is no stranger to Cannes, having screened Goodbye (2011), Manuscripts Don’t Burn (2013) and A Man Of Integrity (2017) at the festival. All of his films cast a critical eye on the consequences of life under authoritarian rule. The identity of cast and crew as well as details of the plot and script of his new film have been kept under wraps due to concerns about reprisals by the Iranian regime.

Statement by Mohammad Rasoulof (dated May 12, 2024):

“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.”

Press Release

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