‘Seed of the Sacred Fig’ Director Explains How He Escaped Iran Ahead of Film’s Debut

Filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof said his decision to flee Iran on foot this month was necessary with the release of his new film “The Seed of the Sacred Fig” imminent, and he knew while making the movie that new charges would likely br brought against him.

“There was tremendous pressure on my shoulders. I kept thinking, well if I’m arrested while making the film, I’ll spend at least five years in prison. And then obviously, I knew this film would lead to other charges against me,” he told reporters during a press conference at Cannes on Saturday.

Because of that pressure, Rasoulof asked industry colleagues in other countries if they would carry on work on the film if he were arrested before he could leave. He made the decision to go after he learned that Iran’s secret police planned to target others who worked on the movie, too.

“I therefore had to make a decision in just a few hours. I had to say to myself, ‘Well do I want to be in prison, or should I leave geographic Iran and join the cultural Iran that exists beyond its borders?’ And I opted for the second possibility,” he explained. “It took me two hours to make the decision. I walked around, I paced around my house, I said goodbye to the plants that I loved. It’s not an easy decision to make. It still isn’t easy even to talk about it with you.”

Of his escape, Rasoulof explained he had to place “absolute trust” in the people who aided him. “They helped me to leave and go to a place where I was safe near the border. Then I was able to walk a long distance and cross the border into a country that I don’t want to name.”

The director ultimately ended up in Germany where he worked with the European Council to confirm his identity and find a safe place to stay.

Rasoulof also spoke about members of the movie’s cast and crew who were unable to attend the film festival with him, and held up photos of Soheila Golestani (who he said was arrested by the secret police on Thursday) and Missagh Zareh.

“The Seed of the Sacred Fig” tells the story of Iman, an investigating judge in the Revolutionary Court in Tehran, who struggles with mistrust and paranoia as nationwide political protests intensify and his gun mysteriously disappears. Suspecting the involvement of his wife Najmeh and his daughters Rezvan and Sana, he imposes drastic measures at home, causing tensions to rise. Step by step, social norms and the rules of family life are suspended.

In May, Rasoulof was sentenced to eight years in prison and flogging for being involved in films that are considered “examples of collusion with the intention of committing a crime against the country’s security” and for statements against Iran’s authoritarian leadership.

His 2020 arrest was not Rasoulof’s first at the hands of the regime. In 2010 he was sentenced to six years in prison after he was accused of filming without a permit, and his passport was confiscated in 2017.

In 2019, Rasoulof was sentenced to a one-year prison term and two-year ban on leaving the country following his film “A Man of Integrity.” The following year saw yet another arrest and year-long sentencing that prohibited him from attending the Berlin Film Festival. His most recent imprisonment in 2022 ended after he went on hunger strike.

“The Seed of the Sacred Fig” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday to a monumental standing ovation and positive reviews.

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