A Sword of Damocles on Iranian Filmmakers

By Shahla Nahid

Iranian filmmaker Saeed Roustaee as well as his producer, Javad Norouzbeigui, were sentenced to six months prison and five years ban on filming.

This sentence is given by the Iranian authorities for “having fuelled propaganda against Islamic Republic” by presenting their film Leila’s Brothers at Cannes Film Festival in May 2022 without prior authorization.

According to Etemad Newspaper, the court has said that this penalty will be applied according to their conditions:  1/20 executable immediately and the rest will be suspended for 5 years.

A sword of Damocles familiar to Iranian filmmakers — Jafar Panahi had seen his suspended sentence revoked in the summer of 2022 for inquiring about the fate of his imprisoned colleague Mohammad Rassoulof.

The sentence also includes the deprivation of convicts from contact with activities and persons related to their profession during this period of suspension. They will also be obliged to follow 24 hours courses of filmmaking which promotes the safeguard of the national interest and morals, at the University of Communication of Ghom (holy city).

They have 20 days to appeal.

The prodigy Roustaee, revealed internationally by the hard-hitting thriller Tehran’s Law (2021), was very well received in Cannes by critics for his Leila’s Brothers.

As far as this work  is concerned, the filmmaker whispered that censorship demanded insane cuts, at least an hour, in this iconoclastic social drama which sees a Tehran family floundering in misery under the blow of inflation and the yoke of an infected patriarch.

Nevertheless, while he was in France as a member of the Nouvelle Vague Festival jury in Biarritz in June 2023, Saeed Roustaee told Le Figaro that Leila’s Brothers had found its audience via illegal streaming and had thirty-five million views in his homeland.

Now the question is: will he work clandestinely, like Panahi, Rassoulof or maybe the newcomer Ali Ahmadzadeh, in competition at the Locarno Festival, where he won the Golden Leopard with Critical Zone but was unable to attend ? 

Shahla Nahid