Iran sentences director to 6 months after he screened film at Cannes

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Iran sentences director to 6 months after he screened film at Cannes
The Islamic Revolutionary Court said the director of “Leila’s Brothers,” Saeed Roustaee, and the film’s other producer had been “participating in the opposition’s propaganda.”

by Christopher Kuo

NEW YORK, NY.- A prominent Iranian film director and an Iranian producer were sentenced on Tuesday to six months in prison for creating the film “Leila’s Brothers” and screening it at the Cannes Film Festival without official approval, according to the country’s news media.

Saeed Roustaee, the film’s director, and Javad Noruzbegi, who produced the film with Roustaee, were both sentenced to six months in prison by the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran for “participating in the opposition’s propaganda against the Islamic regime,” according to the conviction announcement made by the court and reported in Etemad, an Iranian reformist newspaper.

“The defendants aligned with the oppositional media, under the influence of propaganda, in line with the counterrevolutionary (anti-regime) forces,” the announcement read. “With the aim of raising money and seeking fame,” it said, they “prepared fodder and intensified the media battle against the religious authority.”

Roustaee and Noruzbegi will serve about nine days of their sentence, with the remainder suspended for five years, Etemad reported. During that period, Roustaee and Noruzbegi will be required to complete a 24-hour course about “creating movies aligned with national interests and national morality” and refrain from associating with other individuals in the film industry, according to Etemad.

“Leila’s Brothers,” which tells the story of an Iranian family struggling to escape poverty in Tehran, was screened at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it won top honors from the International Federation of Film Critics. Roustaee did not have permission from Iran’s Ministry of Culture to screen the film, and he said it wanted him to censor some of the movie’s most important scenes.

“Roustaee’s sentence has concerned many in the Iranian cinema community,” said an Iranian filmmaker who was granted anonymity because he said he was concerned about his safety. “We believe that this indicates that a new wave of limitations and restrictions has emerged.”

The Iranian government is likely extra sensitive to criticism and dissent because of the upcoming anniversary of widespread anti-government protests that erupted last September, said Ray Takeyh, the Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“The regime is watchful of what is happening and is determined to control the discourse that is taking place,” Takeyh said.

Several prominent figures in Iran’s film industry have been imprisoned in recent years after running afoul of government authorities.

In 2022, award-winning filmmaker Jafar Panahi was ordered to serve a six-year prison sentence by Iran’s judiciary; he had been sentenced in 2010, when he was arrested after supporting protests. Taraneh Alidoosti, the lead actress in “Leila’s Brothers,” was arrested in December after calling on Iranians to support anti-government protests. She was released on bail after spending 2-1/2 weeks in detention.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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