One year after ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi came to power, Iranian authorities are targeting the country’s cinema. The July arrests of directors Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, both icons abroad, reflect the pressure that filmmakers and actors are facing. 

The Iranian film community has been asking “who will be next?” ever since Panahi and Rasoulof were arrested in July in Tehran. 

Panahi, who was sentenced to six years in prison in 2010 for “spreading anti-regime propaganda”, is one of Iran’s most celebrated filmmakers. Most notably, he won the Golden Bear in Berlin for “Taxi Tehran” in 2015 and three years later, the screenplay prize at Cannesfor “3 Faces”. For his part, Rasoulof won the Golden Bear in 2020 for “There is no evil”, and the prize in the “Un Certain Regard” category in Cannes for his feature “A Man of Integrity” in 2017. Both filmmakers are very well known and their arrests have been publicised abroad, but other directors have also been touched by the wave of repression that has hit Iranian cinema in recent months. 

“This wave of arrests did not start with Panahi and Rasoulof,” says Asal Bagheri, a teacher-researcher at Cergy-Paris University and a specialist in Iranian cinema. A few days before the Cannes festival in May, a dozen documentary filmmakers were arrested, including Mina Keshavarz and Firouzeh Khosravani, two directors who are regularly invited to France and awarded prizes at international festivals. 

Bagheri fears that “this is only the beginning”, as other filmmakers have also been put under pressure. Majid Barzegar and Mohsen Amir-Yousefi, two documentary filmmakers, received a summons from the Iranian justice system at the end of August.

“We are entering a period of repression that is damaging to culture,” says the Iranian film specialist. 

The team behind “Leila’s Brothers” under pressure 

The team behind Saeed Roostaee’s film, “Leila’s Brothers”, which was well received at the festival and is currently showing in French cinemas, found itself in trouble following its return from Cannes. 

Not only has the film, which takes a no-holds-barred look at the ravages of Iran’s economic crisis, been banned in the country, but its cast and crew have also been under duress. One of the lead actors, Navid Mohammadzadeh, has had several plays suspended.

A Still from Leila's Brothers

“In his film, Saeed Roostaee managed to play very intelligently with the red lines, but the film’s release at Cannes, at a time when the country has been going through a serious social crisis, has put the Iranian authorities on edge,” says Bagheri. 

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