As protests continue to erupt in Iran and around the world sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini – the young Iranian woman who died last week while being held in custody by morality police for allegedly wearing a loose headscarf – the country’s film community is intensely engaged and keenly aware that their voices are now even more at risk of being quashed.
Two-time Oscar-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (“A Separation”), who is currently presiding over the Zurich Film Festival jury, has issued a statement and a video appeal urging artists around the world to proclaim their solidarity with the Iranian people who are protesting against the death of Amini.
Iran’s morality police arrested Amini, who was 22, on Sept. 13 in Tehran. She died at a police station three days later. The police say she died of a heart attack, but she had no history of a cardiac condition.
In an unprecedented wave of street protests in Iran, women have torn off their hijabs, twirled them in the air and thrown them into bonfires, online videos show.
“I saw them closely these nights,” Farhadi said in his appeal. “Most of them are very young — 17 years old, 20 years old. I saw outrage and hope in their faces and in the way they marched in the streets,” Farhadi noted.
“I deeply respect their struggle for freedom and the right to choose their own destiny despite all the brutality they are subjected to. I am proud of my country’s powerful women, and I sincerely hope that through their efforts, they reach their goals,” the director added.
“I invite all artists, filmmakers, intellectuals, civil rights activists from all over the world and all countries, and everyone who believes in human dignity and freedom to stand in solidarity with the powerful and brave women and men of Iran by making videos, in writing or any other way,” Farhadi urged.
Iranian actor and film director Pegah Ahangarani (“The Locust”), who on Friday in Berlin attended one of many demonstrations around the world prompted by Amini’s death, pointed out that “after years of oppression Iranian women are now saying ‘enough is enough’ and showing unprecedented courage.”
But Iran’s filmmakers are also aware that this last development, which was prompted by the hard-line Iranian government’s ongoing crackdown, can worsen the tough conditions in which they already operate.
“Obviously, filmmakers and creatives are amongst the most effective voices that, unfortunately, will be targeted” as part of Iran’s even stronger crackdown, says Ahangarani.
Orwa Nyrabia, chair of the Berlin-based International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk (ICFR), who is in close contact with detained Iranian film directors Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, underlined that “the polarization in Iran is reaching new heights. This will mean a more aggressive regime, and this will put political filmmaking at a very high risk.”
“Either we witness a negotiation where some kind of balance can come out of this or we will witness something as repressive as what we saw in Syria or what is happening in Russia,” said the Syrian multi-hyphenate who is also artistic director of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.
For Iranian filmmakers, the risk is that “the majority may end up leaving their country, and Iranian cinema will become based in Europe and in the U.S.,” Nyrabia underlined.