Iranian Filmmaker Ali Asgari Banned From Traveling, Making Movies After Cannes Premiere of ‘Terrestrial Verses’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Iranian filmmaker Ali Asgari, whose latest film “Terrestrial Verses” (co-directed by Alireza Khatami) world premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, has been banned by the Iranian authorities from leaving the country and directing movies until further notice.

The sole Iranian movie to play in Cannes Official Selection this year, “Terrestrial Verses” earned a warm critical response at the festival, where it played in Un Certain Regard, and was sold by Films Boutique around the world. But when Asgari returned to Iran after the premiere, he had his passport confiscated by the local authorities to prevent him from attending further international festivals. In an attempt to silence him, the Iranian regime also threatened to send him to prison as has happened to other outspoken Iranian directors. Just a couple weeks ago, Saeed Roustaee and his producer were sentenced to six months to prison for showing their film “Leila’s Brothers” at last year’s Cannes and they were also banned from making movies.

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A satire on the Iranian regime, “Terrestrial Verses” follows everyday people from all walks of life as they navigate the cultural, religious and institutional constraints imposed on them by various social authorities, from school teachers to bureaucrats.

Khatami, an Iranian-American filmmaker based in Canada who co-directed “Terrestrial Verses” with Asgari, tells Variety that she has “observed the unnerving escalation of censorship on Iranian cinema by the regime, increasingly cornering filmmakers and limiting our creative avenues over the past two years.”

“Terrestrial Verses” serves as a lens into this struggle, says Khatami, because “many dialogues within our work are rooted in genuine experiences, making the narrative not just a work of fiction but a reflection of our realities.”

“Ali Asgari, my co-director, faced the repercussions of this climate firsthand. What’s more distressing is the regime’s proficiency in wielding intimidation. Beyond merely reviewing and censoring content, they employ a web of legal threats and consequences,” continued Khatami, who fears that those pressures will lead to self-censorship within the Iranian film community.

“Their primary objective is unmistakable: to curate and control Iran’s cinematic narrative, ensuring it adheres strictly to their ideological narrative.”

Over at Films Boutique, Jean-Christophe Simon said the company was “highly concerned by the situation of Ali.” He stressed the importance of the “support from the international film community and from the international press for Iranians filmmakers and artists.”

“This is sadly one of many attempts from Iranian authorities to limit filmmakers and more generally people’s freedom in Iran and especially following the arrest of filmmaker Saeed Roustaee,” Simon continued. The company has been working with many Iranian filmmakers over the last few years, notably Mohammad Rasoulof, whose film “There Is No Evil” won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 2020.

“Terrestrial Verses” has been sold by Films Boutique to top distributors across multiple territories, including ARP Selection (France), Neue Visionen (Germany), September Films (Benelux), Filmcoopi (Switzerland), Academy Two (Italy), Imovision (Brazil), Mars (Turkey), and Flash Forward (Taiwan), among others.

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