Iran Mulling Possible Boycott of Venice Film Festival (Report)

Jafar Panahi

The official reason is a protest against the EU's oil sanctions. But speculation is that a boycott could center on Kianoosh Ayari's refusal to censor his film.

ROME – A leading Iranian government official said Iran could decide to boycott the Venice Film Festival this year for what he says is a protest against oil sanctions imposed by the European Union. But censorship may be the real issue.

In a statement published in the Tehran Times, Alireza Sajjadpur, the director of the Supervision and Evaluation Office within Iran’s Minister of Culture, said, “Considering that the European Union has imposed the most inhumane and illegal sanctions against Iran, we are naturally considering a plan to boycott the festival this year.”

But the real reason for the possible boycott could be the refusal of the director of the lone Iranian film set to screen on the Venice Lido to remove parts of the film as requested by the government.

The sanctions were put in place on Jan. 23, but Iran did not announce a boycott of the Berlin Festival in February, where jailed Iranian directors Jafar Panahi, Mohammad Rasoulof, and Mehdi Pourmoussa were honored (they did not attend) and where Iranian director Asghar Farhadi appeared on the jury, or the Cannes Film Festival in May, where Someone in Love by Iran's famed director Abbas Kiorestami screened. 

The Paternal House from Kianoosh Ayari, which is part of the lineup for the competitive Horizons sidebar, is Iran’s lone representative in Venice this year. The film tells the story of women’s struggles in male-dominated Iranian households.

The film is controversial: Iran’s Ministry of Culture already demanded that certain parts of The Paternal House be cut before it screened in Venice, and Ayari reportedly refused -- sparking speculation that the possible boycott could be to prevent the film from screening, and that the oil sanctions could be a kind of smoke screen.

Any Iranian boycott of the film would mean that Ayari would not be able to travel to Venice to present his film. But it does not necessarily mean that if Venice officials already have a print of the film or it one could be smuggled out of Iran, that the film would not screen even with Ayari not on hand to present it.

Last year, Panahi’s This is Not a Film screened in Cannes despite Iran’s refusal to allow the screening. Panahi was under house arrest at the time, but the film was smuggled out of the country -- reportedly on a flash drive hidden inside a cake.

Venice officials would not comment on the reports except to say that they had not received any official word of a possible Iranian boycott of the festival, which runs August 29-Sept. 8.



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