Director Mohammad Rasoulof Escapes Iran for Europe After Being Sentenced to 8 Years in Prison for Cannes-Bound Film ‘Seed of the Sacred Fig’

Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof has managed to escape Iran and secretly travel to Europe. He made this decision after facing severe pressure from the country’s authorities, who sentenced him to eight years in prison. These authorities not only forced Rasoulof to withdraw his latest film, “The Seed of the Sacred Fig,” from the Cannes Film Festival but also harassed the film’s producers and actors.

Jean-Christophe Simon, CEO of Films Boutique and Parallel45, expressed his relief and happiness upon Mohammad’s safe arrival in Europe after a perilous journey. Simon also expressed hope that Mohammad would be able to attend the Cannes premiere of “The Seed of the Sacred Fig” despite the efforts made to prevent him from being there in person.

Rasoulof’s ability to attend the Cannes world premiere of “Sacred Fig” on May 24 remains uncertain, according to his Cannes publicist and French distributor.

Rasoulov, one of Iran’s most renowned directors, has faced significant obstacles in sharing his films within his own country. Despite the fact that his films have always been banned in Iran, Rasoulov has managed to achieve international recognition. In 2011, his film “Goodbye,” which explores the theme of censorship, won two prizes at Cannes. However, this success was overshadowed by his conviction alongside fellow director Jafar Panahi for alleged anti-regime propaganda. The sentence included six years in prison and a 20-year ban on filmmaking. Fortunately, Rasoulov’s sentence was later suspended, and he was released on bail. In 2017, upon his return from the Telluride Film Festival, where his film “A Man of Integrity” shed light on corruption and injustice in Iran, Iranian authorities confiscated his passport. Despite these challenges, Rasoulov’s immense talent continues to captivate audiences worldwide.

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In 2020, Iranian authorities prohibited him from attending Berlin. However, his daughter Baran Rasoulof, who also appears in the film “There Is No Evil,” accepted the festival’s top prize on his behalf. The movie explores themes of the death penalty and the suppression of personal freedom in Iran through four interconnected episodes.

In an undisclosed location, Rasoulof has released a statement detailing the oppression faced by his team while making “Sacred Fig” in Iran. He is now reaching out to the international film community, seeking their effective support.

Mohammad Rasoulof has provided a comprehensive statement, which reads as follows:

“I recently arrived in Europe after a long and challenging journey. A month ago, my lawyers informed me that the court of appeal had confirmed my eight-year prison sentence, which would be enforced soon. Anticipating that the news of my upcoming film would further extend my sentence, I had to make a quick decision. It was a difficult choice, but with a heavy heart, I opted for exile instead of imprisonment. Due to the Islamic Republic confiscating my passport in September 2017, I had to leave Iran discreetly.”

I am deeply opposed to the recent ruling that has forced me into exile. However, the judicial system of the Islamic Republic has a track record of issuing harsh and bizarre decisions, so I don’t feel that my complaint about my sentence holds much weight. The lives of protesters and civil rights activists are being targeted by the Islamic Republic, with death sentences being carried out. It’s difficult to comprehend, but as I write this, a young rapper named Toomaj Salehi is imprisoned and facing a death sentence. The level of repression has reached a point where people expect to hear about another atrocious act committed by the government on a daily basis. The criminal apparatus of the Islamic Republic systematically and consistently violates human rights.

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Before the Islamic Republic’s intelligence services were aware of my film’s production, some of the actors managed to escape Iran. However, many of the actors and agents involved in the film are still in Iran and are facing pressure from the intelligence system. They have been subjected to lengthy interrogations, and their families have been summoned and threatened. As a result of their involvement in this movie, they have faced court cases and travel bans. The cinematographer’s office was raided, and all his equipment was confiscated. Additionally, the film’s sound engineer was prevented from traveling to Canada. During the interrogations of the film crew, the intelligence forces tried to persuade them to pressure me into withdrawing the film from the Cannes Festival. They attempted to convince the crew that they were unaware of the film’s story and had been manipulated into participating in the project.

Despite the numerous challenges my colleagues, friends, and I encountered during the film’s production, I endeavored to create a cinematic narrative that diverges from the censorship-dominated narrative in the Islamic Republic and instead reflects its true reality. While I firmly believe that limiting and suppressing freedom of expression cannot be justified, even if it inadvertently stimulates creativity, sometimes we must find a way when there seems to be none.

The global film industry has a crucial role to play in providing meaningful assistance to filmmakers who face censorship. It is essential to protect and uphold freedom of speech, and this should be done without hesitation. Those who bravely stand up against censorship, rather than endorsing it, deserve the unwavering support of international film organizations. Having personally experienced the impact of such support, I can attest to its immense value in enabling these individuals to carry on with their vital work.

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“I am deeply grateful for the assistance and collaboration of numerous individuals who played a vital role in bringing this film to life. It is with great concern and genuine worry that I think about their safety and overall welfare.”

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