10th Prague Iranian film fest starts in shadow of events in Iran

The 10th edition of Prague’s ÍRÁN:CI festival of Iranian film gets underway on Wednesday. This time it is taking place in the shadow of four months of unprecedented protests and brutal repression in Iran – a situation which has greatly shaped this year’s festival.  Just before it began, I spoke to founder Kaveh Dashemand.

Kaveh Dashemand | Photo: Barbora Linková,  Czech Radio

“The focus of the 10th edition of ÍRÁN:CI is going to be on the main theme of all the uprisings that are happening at the moment, which is Women, Life, Freedom.

“We are bringing some of the films that can reflect on this very urgent topic.

“Of course it’s impossible to bring films that actually show what is happening in Iran, because it’s only four months that all the uprisings are happening.

“But we have put a theme together that can bring some of the most outstanding, but at the same time controversial and oppositional, films from Iran to the 10th edition of the festival.”

Photo: ÍRÁN:CI festival

Otherwise how are the events in Iran affecting the festival? For example, can guests come?

“Well, just last night we had one of our guests not allowed to get on the plane.

“So it’s affecting us dramatically.

“Many of our guests were unable to come because there is a ban on travel of Iranian guests – the Iranian regime is taking a lot of Iranian artists hostage, not letting them out of the country, putting a travel ban on them, for instance.

“And of course when you’re trying to get in touch with directors and producers and sales agents, the internet is down.

“Communication is broken and it’s very hard to put the festival together with the very, very difficult communication between here and Iran now.”

No Bears | Photo: ÍRÁN:CI festival

Tell us about the opening film on Wednesday night.

“That’s one screening we are exceptionally proud of. It’s going to be No Bears by Jafar Panahi.

“Jafar Panahi is one of the most renowned Iranian filmmakers and he is in prison at the moment, serving six years in prison for being a creative and outstanding artist.”

What are some of the other highlights that visitors to the festival can look forward to?

“I don’t want to advertise, but most of the films we are bringing are really special.

“I’m very happy I can watch these films on the big screen with audiences in the Czech Republic.

“We are bringing two films from Mohammad Rasoulof, who is also in prison at the moment.

“He’s one of the most outstanding filmmakers, who’s won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale.

“We’re bringing two of his most controversial films, which have been banned by the Iranian regime.

“At the same time we are bringing several great guests, such as the director of Those Who Said No, which is a documentary focusing on the mass murders of the 1980s by the Iranian regime.

“And also many other great feature films, documentaries and short films.”

Photo: ÍRÁN:CI festival

Do you know what’s happening, or going to happen, with cinema in Iran? It’s been so amazing for so many years in the face of adversity and with restrictions and so on. But now with everything that’s happening, I presume people aren’t making films and things are at a standstill?

“Yes, Iranian artists especially have been on some sort of an unwritten strike.

“Many Iranian independent filmmakers not only are not allowed to work – on top of that they are not willing to work at the moment.

“So there has been this nationwide strike on even holding performances: theatre performances, music performances, galleries.

“Nobody’s going to the cinema. Filmmakers are refusing to distribute their films in cinemas, and refusing to work with any governmental festivals or organisations which are organising events.

“So basically the arts scene in Iran is down now, but purely thanks to the initiative that the Iranian independent artists are taking.”

Photo: The Focal Project,  Flickr,  CC BY-NC 2.0

What’s happening in your country is absolutely terrible. People are being executed for protesting. How has it been for you watching all of that from this distance?

“It’s extremely painful.

“It’s hard to even wake up in the mornings, with the fear that this time when I open the news there is going to be yet another execution, there is going to be yet another person murdered, there is going to be yet another person imprisoned.

“And it’s been going on for four months.

“At the same time the news is filled with hope too.

“This is the first time that protests against the Iranian regime have been going on for so long, continuously, without a break.

“That is, I think, a great sign of how brave the Iranian people are.

“And because of that what we are doing – which I think is the most exceptional part of our festival this year – is planting a tree in tribute to the brave people of Iran and their fight against oppression.

“We are doing it on Saturday at noon [at Letná Plain], with Mrs. Susan Taslimi, who is one of the most legendary Iranian actresses and directors and has been in exile for 30 years, and with Mrs. Anna Šabatová, a signatory and spokesperson of Charter 77

“They have both given us the honour to plant this tree, which is also going to be the first sign of Iran in the Czech Republic.

“And it’s a beautifully meaningful sign as well.”

NO BEARS Trailer | TIFF 2022

No Bears by Jafar Panaha is the opening film at the 10th edition of the festival.