‘Seed of the Sacred Fig’ Director Mohammad Rasoulof Made the Decision to Flee Iran in ‘Just a Few Hours’: ‘There Was a Tremendous Pressure on My Shoulders’

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Mohammad Rasoulof reflected on his decision to flee Iran at the Cannes Film Festival press conference for his latest film, “The Seed of the Sacred Fig,” on Saturday.

Rasoulof received news of the charges against him in the final weeks of shooting, but decided to risk arrest and finish the film before leaving the country. “Obviously, there was tremendous pressure on my shoulders,” Rasoulof said of the decision. “I kept thinking, well if I’m arrested while making the film, I’ll spend at least five years in prison. And then obviously, I knew this film would lead to other charges against me.”

He said he “counted on the slow pace of the legal administration” in order to wrap the project, and contacted his colleagues abroad to make sure they could bring the film to the finish line in the event of his arrest. Then, he was made aware that the secret services in Iran were looking to arrest other members of the “Seed of the Sacred Fig” team, not just him.

“I therefore had to make a decision in just a few hours. I had to say to myself, ‘Well do I want to be in prison, or should I leave geographic Iran and join the cultural Iran that exists beyond it’s borders?’ And I opted for the second possibility,” he said. “It took me two hours to make the decision. I walked around, I paced around my house, I said goodbye to the plants that I loved. It’s not an easy decision to make. It still isn’t easy even to talk about it with you.”

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In terms of how he was able to leave the country clandestinely, Rasoulof said the contacts he made during a previous prison stint helped tremendously.

“I was able to make contact with people who helped others to flee the country and these were people in whom I had absolute trust. They helped me to leave and go to a place where I was safe near the border. Then I was able to walk a long distance and cross the border into a country that I don’t want to name,” he said. “I spent several days in a village on the other side of the border, and then I made contact with the European Council … They were able to confirm my identity thanks to my fingerprints and they assisted me. They helped me to leave that country and go to Germany.”

Because of the undercover way in which they had to make “The Seed of the Sacred Fig,” Rasoulof referred to himself and his team as “gangsters of cinema.”

“When you have to deal with the secret services, you learn how to avoid them. You understand that they track you using your mobile phone and you learn not to use your mobile phone anymore. Our life is very similar to the life of gangsters, except we are gangsters of the cinema,” he said. “That’s a joke, of course, which we repeated to each other during the filming. We said to each other, ‘Well, if we want to deal in cocaine it would actually be easier.’”

The drama, about a family divided over the oppressive practices of the Iranian government, earned a rapturous 12-minute standing ovation at its premiere on Friday, setting a record for this year’s edition of the festival. Due to its ecstatic reception and political weight, “The Seed of the Sacred Fig” has emerged as a late frontrunner for Cannes’ prestigious Palme d’Or.

Rasoulof risked his life by appearing at the screening after fleeing Iran for Europe on May 13 to avoid going to prison. He’d been sentenced to eight years in jail by Iranian authorities for making a film that criticizes the regime.

At the premiere of “The Seed of the Sacred Fig,” he thanked the crowd in Farsi, expressing hope for a better future in Iran and saying that many actors in the film didn’t have permission to come to Cannes. On the red carpet, Rasoulof held up images of stars Soheila Golestani and Missagh Zareh, who were unable to leave Iran for the premiere. In an interview with Variety on Thursday, Rasoulof said that Golestani has been arrested by Iranian security services.

At the press conference, Rasoulof took a moment to address the members of the team who were not able to make it to the festival.

“My heart is with the actors and members of the team who cannot be here with us because they had to stay in Iran,” he said. “I think about them all the time and I hope the restrictions they are encountering will soon be lifted.”

‘Seed of the Sacred Fig’ Director Mohammad Rasoulof Made the Decision to Flee Iran in ‘Just a Few Hours’: ‘There Was a Tremendous Pressure on My Shoulders’

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