Iranian Filmmaker Sentenced to Prison for Cannes-Selected Movie

Iranian director Saeed Roustaee has been sentenced to six months in prison for screening his film “Leila’s Brothers” at the Cannes Film Festival last year, local media reported on Tuesday. The film, which depicts a poor family struggling with economic hardship in Tehran, has been banned in Iran since its release last year. It was in competition for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes festival, but missed the top prize and won the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) award instead.

The film was accused of “breaking the rules by being entered at international film festivals without authorisation,” and the director refused to “correct” it as requested by the culture ministry, official media said at the time. The film-makers were also found guilty of “contributing to propaganda of the opposition against the Islamic system.” Roustaee and the movie’s producer Javad Noruzbegi will only serve one-twentieth of their sentence, about nine days, while the remainder “will be suspended over five years,” according to the reformist daily Etemad. The verdict can be appealed.

Iranian Filmmaker Sentenced to Prison for Cannes-Selected Movie
Iranian Filmmaker Sentenced to Prison for Cannes-Selected Movie

A Prominent Director

Roustaee, 34, has gained international renown since the 2019 release of his film “Just 6.5”, an uncompromising look at Iran’s drug problem and the brutal, and fruitless, police response. The film was a box office hit in Iran and also won several awards at international festivals, including the Tokyo International Film Festival and the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. Roustaee is known for his realistic and gritty style of filmmaking, which often tackles social issues and challenges the status quo.

Roustaee is not the only Iranian director who has faced censorship and persecution for his work. Iran has a long history of producing acclaimed filmmakers, such as Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi, and Asghar Farhadi, who have won prestigious awards around the world. However, many of them have also faced restrictions, bans, arrests, and exile for expressing their artistic vision and criticizing the Iranian regime. Some of them have resorted to making films secretly or abroad to avoid censorship.

A Global Outcry

The sentencing of Roustaee has sparked outrage and condemnation from human rights groups, film organizations, and fellow filmmakers around the world. Amnesty International called it “a flagrant violation of his right to freedom of expression” and urged Iran to “immediately quash this unjust sentence.” The International Federation of Film Producers Associations (FIAPF) expressed its “deep concern” and called on Iran to “respect its international obligations regarding freedom of expression.” The Cannes Film Festival also issued a statement of solidarity with Roustaee and Noruzbegi, saying that they “should not be imprisoned for having made a film.”

Many prominent filmmakers have also voiced their support for Roustaee and his film. French director Jacques Audiard, who won the Palme d’Or in 2015 for his film “Dheepan”, said that he was “shocked and saddened” by the news and praised Roustaee as “a great filmmaker who deserves our admiration and respect.” Iranian-American director Ramin Bahrani, who was nominated for an Oscar this year for his film “The White Tiger”, said that he was “outraged and heartbroken” by the sentence and called on Iran to “release Saeed Roustaee immediately and unconditionally.”

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