Berlin film fest demands 'freedom' for two Iran directors

AFP , Thursday 1 Feb 2024

The Berlin film festival, which has long championed Iran's embattled directors, urged Tehran Thursday to allow two filmmakers who have reportedly been slapped with a travel ban to attend this month's event.

Iranian actress Maryam Moghaddam (L) and Iranian film director Behtash Sanaeeha (R), both posing during the Berlinale Summer Special film festival in Berlin, Germany on June 18, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

The Berlinale has invited Maryam Moghaddam and Behtash Sanaeeha to present their new movie "My Favourite Cake" in competition for the Golden Bear top prize.

However it said in a statement that it had learned Moghaddam and Sanaeeha have been "banned from travelling, have had their passports confiscated, and face a court trial in relation to their work as artists and filmmakers".

Organisers Carlo Chatrian und Mariette Rissenbeek said they were "shocked and dismayed" by the reports and called on Iranian authorities "to return the passports and to end all restrictions preventing" the two from attending.

"The Berlinale is a festival fundamentally committed to freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of the arts, for all people around the world," the organisers said.

There was no official confirmation of the reports.

But in October, reformist paper Arman Melli wrote that Moghaddam and Sanaeeha, who wanted to leave Iran for France, were blocked from exiting the country by airport police and had their passports confiscated.

"My Favourite Cake" is billed as a drama about an ageing woman who breaks out of her routine and the strictures imposed on her by a deeply conservative society.

It was partially funded by the Berlinale as part of a programme assisting directors around the globe.

Moghaddam and Sanaeeha's previous film "Ballad of a White Cow", a drama about the death penalty, premiered at the 2021 Berlinale.

"Maryam Moghaddam and Behtash Sanaeeha share a long and rich history with the Berlinale, and must be allowed to return to Berlin this February," the festival said.

The Berlinale, the most politically minded of the top European cinema showcases, has long backed dissident directors from Iran.

It has awarded the Golden Bear to many of the leading lights of Iranian cinema including Asghar Farhadi ("A Separation"), Jafar Panahi ("Taxi") and Mohammad Rasoulof ("There Is No Evil").

Panahi and Rasoulof have both served prison time and faced travel bans at home.

The festival will open on February 15 with "Small Things Like This", a drama starring Cillian Murphy about the systematic abuse of "fallen" women at Irish laundries run by the Catholic Church.

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