Film director Mohammad Rasoulof leaves Iran for Europe ahead of Cannes premiere

Iran  Regis DuvignauReuters
© Regis Duvignau/Reuters

Filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof said he fled Iran after being sentenced to prison on national security charges and is in Europe ahead of the screening of his new film at the Cannes Film Festival, where he may attend the premiere.

Rasoulof said he left Iran without official permission after being sentenced to eight years in prison and flogging for national security crimes.

“I had to choose between prison and leaving Iran. With a heavy heart, I chose exile,” said in an Instagram post Tuesday.

Pressure on the film festival

Last week, a court in Iran found Rasoulof's films and documentaries to be “examples of collusion with the intention of committing a crime against the security of the country”.

The films, which include Goodbye (2011), Manuscripts Don't Burn (2013) and A Man Of Integrity (2017), cast a critical eye on the consequences of life under authoritarian rule. 

Rasoulof has been a target in Iran for years, and the timing of his most recent conviction and sentencing appeared to be an attempt to put pressure on the Cannes Film Festival to remove his latest film, The seed of the sacred fig, which is set to premiere in competition next week, on Friday 24 May.

His lawyer Babak Paknia confirmed to the AFP news agency that Rasoulof has left Iran, and said he "will attend the Cannes festival”.

A a statement from the his French distributors was less certain about his attendance, saying just that he was "currently staying in an undisclosed location in Europe, raising the possibility that he might be present at the world premiere of his most recent film".

Supporting dissident filmmakers

Rasoulof called on film community to support filmmakers working under authoritarian conditions.

“People who courageously and selflessly confront censorship instead of supporting it are reassured of the importance of their actions by the support of international film organisations," he wrote.

He said he was concerned about the safety of those who worked with him on the film who have not managed to leave Iran: “Many of the actors and agents of the film are still in Iran and the intelligence system is pressuring them.”