‘The Seed Of The Sacred Fig’s Mohammad Rasoulof On Brush With Iranian Hardline Regime: “We’re Gangsters Of Cinema” – Cannes

“If we had to deal with cocaine, it would have been easier,” joked The Seed of the Sacred Fig filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof this AM at a Cannes presser about his entanglement with totalitarian Iranian authorities over his cinema which prompted the filmmaker to flee his homeland from imprisonment.

“We’re gangsters of cinema,” Rasoulof further quipped in talking about how he’s a renegade with his art in the face of what he called a dictatorship in Iran.

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“My heart is with the actors and the members of the team who can’t be with us, I think about them all the time,” said Rasoulof at the top of the conference. “I hope that the restrictions they’re encountering will be lifted.”

“The regime tries to appear as a supreme power. What are they really afraid of? Why are they so afraid of the stories in our films?” asked the director.

“They’re afraid of arthouse films, they’re prepared to prevent the filming of such kinds of films.”

“Don’t be impressed by all this propaganda,” said Rasoulof in his advice to the younger generation of filmmakers in Iran, “Don’t be impressed by intimidation.”

The filmmaker’s latest follows Iman, an investigating judge in the Revolutionary Court in Tehran, who grapples 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 being suspended.

On the pic’s allegory, Rasoulof said today that he wanted to focus on “the individuals who enable this system to survive. What can justify their motivation, their way of thinking? I endeavored to focus on the psychological damages in the film, the individual needs of these people. How did they get to this point? How did they become enslaved to this system? How do they persuade and contribute to the regime? I tried to create an exemplary character who exemplifies the regime.”

The Seed of the Sacred Fig received the longest standing ovation of this year’s 77th Cannes at 15 minutes in its premiere yesterday. It would not be a shocker if the movie, after Rasoulof’s hard journey here to the Croisette, wins the Palme d’Or tonight.

Rasoulof spoke to Deadline’s Zac Ntim at the festival. Back in Iran, the filmmaker is wanted by authorities who have sentenced him to eight years in prison alongside a series of physical punishments including flogging for “signing statements and making films and documentaries.”

Rasoulof was in the middle of shooting Seed of the Sacred Fig when his prison sentence was confirmed. He plotted an escape which took 28 days, getting the assistance of “youthful people” at the border who assisted. After crossing he was taken to a German consulate soon after, the filmmaker having lived there before, where they were able to identify him as Rasoulof wasn’t carrying docs. The filmmaker made the movie on with a small crew sans professional equipment for if authorities were to ever raid his office, they’d take everything.

“The existence of my film was learned by several people and the secret service were to arrest other members of the team. Do I want to be in prison? Or should I leave Iran and join the cultural Iran that exists beyond its border? I opted for the second, it took me two hours to make the decision,” the director further added at the conference.

Rasoulof told his team that “even if I was arrested, it was absolutely necessary for them to keep working on it. Fortunately everything went well. A few days after the New Year, I was told that my sentence was upheld and yet I still had a week left before the sentence was implemented.”

The director had more words of wisdom for the younger generation of Iran, in particular aspiring filmmakers: “Don’t be afraid of intimidation of censorship in Iran. They’re totally incapable of reigning, they have no other weapon other than terror. Don’t fear the authorities. Believe in your liberty.”

Rasoulof is currently working on a stop motion animation project.

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