Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof: Regime has always tried to bring 'reign of terror'

The director was recently sentenced to an eight-year prison sentence over his films

Mohammad Rasoulof at 'The Seed Of The Sacred Fig' photocall at the Cannes Film Festival. Getty Images
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Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof spoke out at the Cannes Film Festival against the authorities in his native Iran.

“My only message to Iranian cinema is don’t be afraid of intimidation and censorship in Iran,” he stated at a press conference on Saturday for his Cannes competition entry The Seed of the Sacred Fig. “They’re afraid. They’re afraid and they want us to feel afraid.

“They want to discourage us but don’t let yourself be intimidated. They have no other weapon but terror. You have to believe in your liberty. We have to fight for a dignified life in our country.”

Rasoulof, 51, is living in Germany in a safe house since fleeing Iran earlier this month, after receiving the news that he was set to be sentenced to an eight-year spell in prison. Frequently in conflict with the Iranian authorities, due to the nature of his films, he’s experienced jail time before. This time, he decided there was no choice but to leave his homeland.

“It took me two hours to take the decision,” explained Rasoulof, who simply walked out of his house, leaving his belongings behind.

According to the filmmaker, contacts he had made in prison previously helped him cross the border. Waiting in a village in a country he did not want to name, he then reached out to European authorities, who identified him and brought him to Germany. “I’d like to thank everybody ... all those who enabled us to leave Iran,” he said.

While Rasoulof is now living in exile, he used the press conference to express his profound sorrow for those left behind. “My heart is with the actors and members of the team because they had to stay in Iran. I think about them all the time and I hope the restrictions they are encountering will still be lifted.”

The Seed of the Sacred Fig, which is in the running for the prestigious Palme d’Or prize, tells the story of a family man named Iman (Missagh Zareh) who has been appointed an investigator for the Iranian authorities, a job that will put him in direct conflict with his wife and two daughters.

Running at nearly three hours, the film received a huge standing ovation when it premiered on Friday, with the audience cheering lines of dialogue during the screening.

Rasoulof spoke about the restrictions the film was shot under, and how he has learnt to avoid the Iranian Secret Services by not using his mobile phone, which the authorities can use to trace him.

“Our life is fairly similar to gangsters, except we are gangsters of the cinema,” he joked. “Which we repeated to each other during the filming. We said if we want to deal in cocaine, it would actually be easier.”

The director also questioned the Iranian authorities. “What are they really afraid of? Why are they so afraid of the stories we tell in our films? They try to repress independent cinema. They are so afraid of art house films that they’re prepared to prevent the filming of such kinds of films.

“But don’t be impressed by all this propaganda, and all these attempts at intimidation by the Iranian government. Remain true to your own beliefs and uphold your freedom of expression.”

Refusing to be cowed, Rasoulof added: “The Islamic Republic is capable of anything and everything. It has always tried to bring about a reign of terror through the media, or even physical terror. The regime is capable of everything. What I tried to concentrate on is my own aims during this voluntary exile.

“In other words, I want to tell the stories I still have within me, stories about my people. I want to tell these stories to people of the world.”

Updated: May 25, 2024, 12:45 PM