200 Film Personalities Condemn Censorship in Iran: “Our Profession Has Been Under Attack”
More than 200 members of Iran’s film industry signed an open letter dated November 2, 2019, condemning state censorship and demanding “freedom of expression and thought” in the Islamic Republic.
Most of the signatories are based in Iran including Jafar Panahi (director), Nasser Taghvaie (director), Mohammad Rasoulof (director), Rakhshan Banietemad (director), Niki Karimi (actress) and Hamid Farrokhnejad (actor). Those based abroad include Bahram Beyzai (U.S.-based director) and Asghar Farhadi (director in France).
The letter was published by Persian-language websites after the judiciary banned director Kianoush Ayari’s film “The Parental House” less than a week after it was first screened in Iran.
Made in 2012, the film did not receive a screening permit from the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry until 2019 after Ayari agreed to make changes to some of the scenes depicting paternal violence spanning three generations within a single family.
On November 3, 2019, the Tehran Prosecutor’s Office announced the ban had been imposed because the film violated regulations prohibiting “murder scenes, atrocities, torture and torment that could disturb audiences and teach a bad lesson.”
The birth country of internationally renowned directors and actors, Iran’s film industry is stifled by arbitrary censorship rules that prevent freedom of speech and expression.
Since the 1979 revolution, filmmakers, actresses, and actors have been penalized in various ways for allegedly breaking arbitrary rules that prohibit everything from women showing too much hair and skin on screen to criticizing domestic social and cultural issues.
In July 2019, Mohammad Rasoulof, winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard Prize (2017), was sentenced to one year in prison under the charge of “propaganda against the state” for the content of his movies, which deal with cultural and social issues in Iran.
A month later, in August 2019, award-winning Iranian actress Pegah Ahangarani discovered that she had been banned from leaving the country for having participated in street protests in Tehran in 2009—an event she was making a documentary about.
In September 2019, several members of internationally acclaimed filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi’s family were banned from leaving Iran and his mother summoned for questioning because of their association with him (Ghobadi is based in New York City).
Following is the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI)’s translation of the open letter:
We are a group of writers, directors, producers, actors and others with a range of expertise in the film industry who make documentaries, fictional movies and animations. However, for years and years our profession has been under attack.
1- We lack job security. Many of our colleagues have been frequently sidelined for long periods due to policies pursued by decisionmakers. Some filmmakers have been sentenced to prison, banned from leaving the country or prohibited from working because they made a few critical films. Blatant discrimination in granting filmmaking opportunities, oppressive policies and censorship have led to the unwanted migration of a number of filmmakers.
2- We not only lack job security, but our ideas and films are being pirated online, on satellite channels as well as on residential networks by the uninformed public because there are no comprehensive laws regarding intellectual property.
3- Our films are not only being pirated, but for many years many of our productions have also been banned or censored by numerous agencies in the executive, legislative and judicial branches, as well as other powerful state institutions and rogue influential factions.
4- Censorship and licensing procedures have become a wall of death. The Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry committees in charge of issuing production and screening permits always look at films through arbitrary and ideological lenses and force filmmakers to make changes in the form and content of their work. For months and years, the films are blocked by suspensions and censorship, causing the loss of intellectual and material capital for indefinite periods. Some films are banned despite having production and screening permits. Content control is so widespread that investors do not feel secure enough to back projects in the film industry.
5- We do not have control over the distribution of our films either. Most cinema halls are owned by a few state organizations that make arbitrary and unscrupulous decisions regarding the screening of films.
6- Laws and regulations have been drafted in such a way that revenues are considered a privilege, rather than a right of filmmakers as human beings to earn a living.
7- Filmmakers’ professional independence is doubly undermined by the open and hidden interference of government agencies and numerous decisionmakers in the judiciary and the legislature.
8- The government, film organizations operating under the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry, as well as other state institutions allocate most of their financial resources to low-quality or propaganda films.
9- Funds injected by suspicious individuals, some backed by state institutions, have disturbed the natural balance of the movie business and turned it into a monopoly controlled by a particular group without any response from various state regulatory bodies.
10- Taking advantage of [revolutionary and religious] values in order to make propaganda films with public funds and vast monies from certain institutions and suspicious sources benefits people who believe only their ideas have any value. To win more crooked contracts, particular people and institutions accuse independent filmmakers of lacking ideological beliefs and push their films out of production and distribution.
All these restrictions and obstacles have not only prevented Iranian films from shining internationally, but also eroded their domestic audience. We express our disgust toward all policies that interfere in the form and content of our work and demand freedom of expression and thought.
Read this article in Persian.