European Film Academy, Festivals Protest Mohammad Rasoulof Prison Summons

Mohammad Rasoulof — Getty — H 2020
Getty

Iran has summoned the director, whose new film 'There Is No Evil' just won the Golden Bear at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival, to serve a one-year prison sentence for alleged propaganda against the government.

The European film industry has united behind Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof.

Rasoulof, whose political drama There Is No Evil won the Golden Bear for best film at this year's Berlin International Film Festival, is facing prison at home after Iran authorities summoned him March 4 to serve a one-year sentence for alleged propaganda against the government.

On Monday, the European Film Academy, along with the German and Italian academies and film festivals including Berlin, Cannes, Rotterdam, Hamburg and Amsterdam, issued a statement protesting the decision and expressing their “deepest concern” for Rasoulof.

"Our colleague Mohammad Rasoulof is an artist who keeps telling us about a reality we would otherwise know little about,” said European Film Academy President Wim Wenders in a statement. “His Golden Bear winning film There Is No Evil is a deeply humane portrait of people in extreme situations, situations no human should be forced to experience. We need voices like that of Mohammad Rasoulof, voices defending human rights, freedom and dignity."

Iran sentenced Rasoulof to prison for three of his previous films but, until now, had not carried out the sentence. This is typical of the Iranian regime, which often uses the threat of jail time to silence outspoken filmmakers and dissident artists.

Aside from prison itself, Rasoulof faces the additional danger of coronavirus infection, which has been widespread within the Iranian prison system. Iran has the third-highest level of infection of any nation worldwide for the COVID-19 illness caused by the coronavirus and recently sent approximately 70,000 on temporary furlough over concerns the virus could spread through the country's prisons.

Rasoulof's There Is No Evil, which was made in secret, is a series of four stories dealing with personal freedom under tyranny and is a direct condemnation of Iran's policy of executing political dissidents.

"Summoning me to serve my prison sentence only reveals a small fraction of the intolerance and anger that is characteristic of the Iranian regime’s response to criticism,” said Rasoulof in a statement. “Many cultural activists are in prison for criticizing the government. The widespread and uncontrollable spread of the COVID-19 virus in Iranian prisons seriously endangers their lives. These conditions call for an immediate response from the international community."

Several national and regional film funds, including the Netherlands Film Fund and the regional state fund in Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein, added their signatures to the letter of protest.

“We are deeply concerned about the incarceration order for Mohammad Rasoulof,” said Berlin Film Festival directors Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian in a statement Monday. “It’s shocking that a director is punished so hard for his artistic work. We hope that the Iranian authorities will soon revise the judgment.”

Added Ulrich Matthes, president of the German Film Academy: “Mohammad Rasoulof is an outstanding artist whose deeply humane films about freedom and oppression have reached so many people worldwide throughout his career. He is a representative master of Iranian cinema: a rich film culture that has provided us with some of the most compelling stories about the human condition. Mohammad Rasoulof’s films not only tell us about life in Iran, but also speak to us in the universal language of cinema to promote empathy and peace. We need artists like Mohammad Rasoulof to be able to raise their voice without fear of reprisal."