Iran’s Global War On Film

Big Hollywood – -

By John T. Simpson

With the recent unjust imprisonments of famed Iranian directors Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, the world finally seems to be coming to terms with the Islamist regime’s rank inhumanity toward its best and brightest and is taking a stand. At the upcoming Academy Awards, Hollywood’s own top creative film artists will be wearing white ribbons in support of the two laureled filmmakers. For many of them, this most recent campaign to free Jafar Panahi on the very heels of campaigning for his freedom from Evin prison last April and May must make it all seem like a nightmarish Groundhog Day.

In truth, it is. The various Islamist regimes of Iran have been at total war with their Hollywood for a very long time now. In 2001 director Tahmineh Milani was sentenced to death for her film The Hidden Half, and well after approval for general release by the regime’s religious censors. Only international and heated domestic outrage spared Tahmineh’s life. Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese were howling back then too, as was the Academy. In February 2007, documentarian Mehrnoushe Solouki was thrown into the hell of Evin for the crime of stumbling across a regime mass grave during a shoot. Again, only international pressure freed her from her now-recurring nightmare.

SSDD in Iran’s film industry. Consider yourself lucky if you only get the McCarthy treatment. But the regime doesn’t stop its war on film and filmmakers at its borders. Last June, suspected Iranian operatives kidnapped exiled filmmaker and regime nemesis Daryush Shokof in Cologne, Germany for daring to screen his film Iran Zendan (Iran Prison), a brutal reenactment of the rape and torture of Green protesters inside an Iranian prison. Again, only international heat and intense pressure from the German government somehow made Mr. Shokof magically reappear on the banks of the Rhine in Cologne soaked, dazed and incoherent after twelve days missing.

It is much the same kind of war regime operatives now seem to be waging on the film Iranium in Canada. Originally scheduled to be screened at Canada’s National Archives, Iranium was canceled by the director due to Iranian embassy pressure and violently threatening anonymous phone calls (it should be noted here that Mr. Shokof received a number of similar dialed-in threats himself over Iran Zendan before his abduction). Canada’s Heritage Minister James Moore bravely ordered the screening back on, and despite all the threats and official Iranian protests. That scheduled screening of Iranium is now on the verge of causing a major diplomatic row between Canada and Iran.

Unfortunately for the regime, Canada has an inconvenient public policy called freedom of speech and someone with the balls to back it up in James Moore. The only question that remains for me is, just how far is the Islamist regime in Iran willing to go in a Western nation like Canada to suppress a film and/or filmmakers they very much don’t like? Time will tell. But if time has told us anything, it’s that the current plights of Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof are only scratching the surface of Islamist Iran’s long sad history of persecuting even unto death its best and brightest, and of reaching beyond its borders to enforce Islamist whims or seek violent revenge for perceived offenses. Is that not the Islamist Way in a nutshell? Is it not the way of all totalitarians, given the tragic histories?

In closing, I would like to bring attention to yet another extremely brave Iranian filmmaker who is suffering the tortures of the damned in Iran: Mohammad Nourizad. A former regime filmmaker who turned after the Green Revolution, Mr. Nourizad was imprisoned and sentenced to 3-1/2 years in prison and fifty lashes for the crime of writing extremely heated letters to Ahmie and Khamie and three Mad Mullahs over the bloody post-election crackdowns. Late last year, he was taken to the hospital from prison following a severe beating that reportedly blurred his vision permanently. A filmmaker’s vision, I might add. He is now in the hospital again following a hunger strike. Please wish him well.

By the way, Mr. Nourizad still awaits his fifty lashes. As soon as he’s well enough, I reckon. The best we can do at the moment is continue to support the brave and longsuffering Iranian filmmakers (not to mention the Greens), and to take our own brave stands in defense of freedom in the face of real violent incivility by the Iranian regime and its agents in Canada. That is how we fight back: defiantly, and with no uncertain terms or equivocation. The Iranian regime does not dictate the terms of our freedom to us, or what films we can and cannot watch. I say let Iranium flow to the outer boundaries of cyberspace. Cheerfully enough, it will on February 8th. The regime would rather we not watch it, which is reason enough to. Screw ‘em! It’s not like they haven’t screened a few unpleasant films in their day.

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