TEHRAN (AFP) – Iranian Culture Minister Mohammad Hosseini has accused the Cannes film festival of being political for screening movies by Iranians who back the country’s opposition movement, media reports said on Thursday.
The annual festival, which opened on Wednesday, “sometimes takes political positions that we disagree with and condemn,” Hosseini said, referring to films by Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, which are to be screened this year.
In December, an Iranian court sentenced both directors to six years in prison and barred them from making films for 20 years.
The two are free on bail pending an appeal, but forbidden to travel abroad.
Berlin in February, Venice in September and Cannes a year ago all invited Panahi to sit on their juries, and left a symbolic empty chair for him when he was barred from leaving Iran.
Panahi was convicted of “propaganda against the system” for making a film about unrest after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009.
His Cannes entry, “In Film Nist” (This is not a film), depicts a day in his life as he waits for a verdict in a court appeal. It will be included in the festival’s official selection and screened on May 20.
Rasoulof’s “Be Omid e Didar” (Goodbye) is the story of a young Tehran lawyer trying to get a visa to leave Iran and will be shown on May 14 in the parallel Un Certain Regard section of the festival.
Cannes organisers have said both films were made in “semi-clandestine conditions.”
“Mohammad Rasoulof’s film and the conditions under which it was made, Jafar Panahi’s ‘diary’ of the days of his life as an artist not allowed to work, are by their very existence a resistance to the legal action which affects them,” the festival’s organisers said earlier this month.
There is an appeal on the Cannes website, jointly launched by the festival along with others, calling for the two directors to be allowed to remain free and to carry on making films.
Referring to Panahi and Rasoulof, it says “these sentences are shameful, intolerable and unfitting for two film makers whose only ‘crime’ is to want to make films freely in their country.”
Panahi is known for his gritty, socially critical movies such as “The Circle,” which bagged the 2000 Venice Golden Lion award; “Crimson Gold” and “Offside,” winner of the 2006 Silver Bear in Berlin.
Hosseini said Iran believes that “a festival like Cannes should remain professional and artistic,” but that Iran will be present at such events despite sustained criticisms in the local media over its participation at Cannes.
“The international film festival in Cannes is an event in which there are people from around the world … That is why the presence of people of Iranian cinema is justified … to enjoy the experience of world cinema,” said Hosseini.
“We have a policy of interaction with the world and we cannot deprive ourselves of this.”