The red carpet at the Berlinale International Film Festival became a stage for protests on Saturday as Iranian film professionals, joined by jury president Kristen Stewart, protested against the brutality of Iran’s regime and demanded the release of imprisoned journalists and a hip-hop artist.
Extraction actress Golshifteh Farahani, also a member of the jury, The Siren director Sepideh Farsi, and Holy Spider actress Zar Amir Ebrahimi were among several Iranian filmmakers and talents participating in the protests. Festival co-heads Carlo Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek also took part in the rally.
The protesters unveiled a banner reading “Women, Life, Freedom!” as they urged the Iranian government to release Niloofar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi. The two journalists were imprisoned on charges of “conspiring against national security”, after being the first to report the death of Mahsa Amini, an activist who died in police custody — having been arrested for not properly wearing a head veil.
Protesters also chanted in support of rapper Toomaj Salehi, who could face the death penalty over accusations by the Iranian government of spreading propaganda.
The rally took place following a panel titled The Role of Cinema and the Arts in the Iranian Revolution. Panellists included Ebrahimi and Farsi, who expressed hope that the protests spreading across the country could help inspire change.
“This regime lies,” Farhani said in her opening speech as quoted by Variety. “The prisons of Iran are full of innocent people. We need you to stand on the right side of history with the Iranian people. This regime will fall.”
“The wall of dictatorship is a thick wall … the revolution in South Africa took 800 days, ours has been just five months,” she added. “This wall is one of oppression, attacking human rights. We need all of you. We need Germany, France, Europe. We need you to stand on the right side and to acknowledge it. Call it a revolution.”
Speaking to Variety about her film The Siren, Farsi said: “The end of the film has hope, and I really, really would like them [Iranians] to feel it as a glow of sun for the near future of Iran, because I’m really hoping that we will reach that victory soon.”
The Berlinale International Film Festival is the largest public film festival of its kind in the world and is known to serve as a platform for filmmakers and activists calling out against injustice. In her opening speech, Stewart underscored this, saying: “This festival in particular, historically, is in a positive way confrontational and political.”