The Ayatollah Smiles

The bad news is an Iranian film director, Mohammad Rasoulof was sentenced to eight years in prison and flogging by the Islamic Republic’s revolutionary court. The good news is that Rasoulof successfully escaped from Iran on foot. 

He posted a video on X and a message. He showed a video of a mountainous area. 

Of his decision to flee, Rasoulof said, in part, “If you think you control the borders of Iran, you are dreaming. From today, I reside in cultural Iran, a boundless land built by millions of Iranians with an ancient history and culture in every corner of the world. And they eagerly await to bury you and your regime of darkness in the depths of history. Then, like a phoenix, a new life will begin from that soil.”

Rasoulof has a film that is scheduled to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival next week titled “The Seed of the Sacred Fig Tree.” Iranian authorities were pressuring him to withdraw the film from the festival.

He won the Berlin Film Festival’s top award with his 2020 drama “There Is No Evil.”

In a statement dated Sunday, Rasoulof said he was in an unspecified location in Europe. “I had to choose between prison and leaving Iran. With a heavy heart, I chose exile,” it said.

Rasoulof said he made the decision after he learned about a month ago that his sentence had been confirmed.

“Knowing that the news of my new film would be revealed very soon, I knew that without a doubt, a new sentence would be added to these eight years,” he said, according to the statement.

Rasoulof’s passport was confiscated in September 2017. He criticized the intensity of repression by Iranian authorities. He called for the world film community to stand by filmmakers facing censorship. He called for a defense of freedom of speech.

“I am thankful and indebted to friends, relatives, and individuals who, with kindness, selflessness, and at times risking themselves, aided me in crossing the border and reaching a safe haven in this arduous and lengthy journey,” he wrote.

“I am alive to narrate it.”

Why is this story important? It is important because it is another green sprout for freedom for the Iranian people caught up in an Islamic theocracy. The film director’s video comes on the heels of another story – one where a group of Iranians in a public park saved a teenage girl from being disciplined for not wearing a hijab in public. Iranian people are rising against the mullahs, slowly but surely, and Western support is important for those brave souls to see. 

His film’s distributor released a statement.

“We are very happy and much relieved that Mohammad has safely arrived in Europe after a dangerous journey,” said Jean-Christophe Simon, CEO of Films Boutique and Parallel45, who are distributing the film. “We hope he will be able to attend the Cannes premiere of ‘The Seed of the Sacred Fig’ in spite of all attempts to prevent him from being there in person.”

Rasoulof is well-known and respected in Iran. Iranian officials refuse to allow his films to be shown in Iran. He won two prizes in 2011 at Cannes. He was sentenced with fellow director Jafar Panahi to six year in prison and a 20-year ban on filmmaking for alleged anti-regime propaganda. That sentence was suspended and Rasoulof was released on bail. He attended the Telluride Film Festival in 2017 where his “A Man of Integrity,” about corruption and injustice in Iran, had screened. Upon his return, his passport was confiscated.

Good luck to him. He’s lucky to be alive and to have the resources to escape from Iran’s brutal dictators. Instead of continuing to find ways to give Iran pallets of cash to the mullahs, it would be better if the leader of the free world would speak up for those in Iran bravely fighting for freedom.

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