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Director who fled Iran appears in Cannes with film and message of hope

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While shooting his new film, “Seeds of the Sacred Fig,” director Mohammad Rasoulof learned he faced eight years in prison for making a film critical of Iran’s hard-line government.

so Rasoulov flees Iranto Germany before arriving in France last week for the Cannes Film Festival. After “The Sacred Fig Seeds” premiered in competition on Friday night to rave reviews, Rasoulof pledged to continue making films that reflect the current state of his country.

“The Islamic Republic has taken the Iranian people hostage,” he told a news conference on Saturday. “So it’s very important to talk about this indoctrination.”

Set against the backdrop of student protests in Tehran, The Sacred Fig Seed follows an investigative judge in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court who is responsible for approving death sentences, but the job begins to take a heavy toll on him and his family. The judge’s paranoia intensifies after his gun goes missing, and when he begins to suspect his wife and daughter are conspiring against him, he takes drastic action to determine who the culprit is.

Rasoulof said he came up with the idea for the film while in prison in 2022 With director Jafar Panahi Sign a petition calling on Iranian security forces to exercise restraint during public protests.

After being released in February 2023, the director began making plans to film “The Seeds of the Sacred Fig” in secret with a small crew to avoid arousing suspicion. “Sometimes people would say, ‘There are people lurking outside,’ and we would scatter,” said Mahsa Rostami, an actress in the film, at a press conference. “We just prayed that the project would go through to the end.”

That meant the director had to give up his phone, which he believed authorities were using to track his movements. Rasoulof said he contracted COVID-19 in a remote area during filming and the production team obtained a fake ID so he could be hospitalized without revealing his whereabouts.

Rasoulof recalled telling the cast and crew, “Our lives are similar to gangsters, except we’re gangsters in the movie.”

About a third of the way through filming, an Iranian court sentenced Rasoulof to eight years in prison and lashing after it said his film was “an example of conspiracy to commit crimes against national security.” According to his lawyerBabak Paknia.

Rasoulof appealed the verdict in order to buy himself time to finish filming Holy Fig, even though he realized that doing so might put him in greater danger.

“Obviously, I knew that making this film would lead to more charges,” Rasoulof said. “I said to myself, ‘I can’t think about this anymore, I have to close this door on myself,’ and that’s what I did. I was counting on the justice system to take its time so that I could finish this film.”

In March, Rasoulof learned that his appeal had failed and his conviction had been upheld. He knew he would soon be detained, so he had only two hours to decide whether to stay or flee. “This was not an easy decision to make,” he said at a news conference. “It’s still not easy to talk to you about this now.”

Rasoulof said he ditched his electronics and crossed Iran’s mountainous border to a safe house with the help of young activists he met during his previous imprisonment. Before escaping, Rasoulof said he contacted authorities in Germany, where he previously lived, and they issued him a temporary travel document. He said he had arrived in Europe just days before.

Still, he encouraged filmmakers still in Iran to persevere.

“Free people have great dignity and want to make films at all costs,” Rasoulof said. “My only advice to Iranian films is: Don’t be afraid of intimidation and censorship in Iran. They are completely incapable of ruling and have no other weapon except terror.”

Even before that Iranian President DiesEbrahim Raisi’s helicopter crashed last weekend as the country faces a host of problems, including a struggling economy, a crackdown on public dissent and escalating tensions with Israel. Analysts expect the election results to replace Raisi, a Scheduled for June 28will There is little chance of changing Iran’s leadership Get rid of its hard line.

However, Rasoulof and his actors held out a glimmer of hope in Cannes. He was joined at the press conference by two film actresses who also fled Iran, Rostami and Setareh Maleki, who expressed hope that circumstances would change and allow them to return to Iran in the future.

“I am sure of that,” Maleki said. “You will soon witness this victory.”

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