Iran’s Culture Ministry Successfully Pressures Iranian Director to Cancel Film Screening in Canada
Iranian director Abdolreza Kahani cancelled a screening of one of his films in Canada after Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance threatened to ban his next film in Iran if he refused to comply, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has learned.
The film, “Delighted” (2016), which was banned in Iran for its depiction of three carefree women in Tehran, was scheduled to be screened in Toronto in November 2017.
“If the screening had gone ahead, his new film, ‘We Like You Mrs. Yaya,’ which was very expensive to make, would not get a permit for screening in Iranian theaters and the producers would get into a lot of trouble,” a source who’s close to Kahani told CHRI on December 15, 2017.
“The Guidance Ministry sent a message ‘politely recommending’ that the film not be screened even though tickets had already been sold,” added the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons. “There was no choice but to apologize to the people and give them a refund. Everyone was stunned that the Guidance Ministry could interfere in screenings outside the country.”
According to the source, it’s rare for the ministry, which regulates all media in Iran, to ban filmmakers from showing their work abroad.
The source told CHRI: “‘Delighted’ was made almost two years ago. The director and the producers tried very hard to get a screening permit for domestic theaters but failed. After the presidential election [in Iran, May 2017] promises were made to lift bans on several films but in the end this one was not included.”
“The people involved in the film then decided to show it abroad and recoup some of the large amounts of money that went into its production,” added the source. “Deals had been made to screen it in Canada, the UK, Germany, the Czech Republic, France, and Australia, and then the plan was to sell it to Netflix. The first stop was supposed to be Toronto.”
But an Iranian official in Tehran had announced that “Delighted” would not be screened anywhere.
“The Cinema Guild has not received a permit or contract regarding Mr. Kahani’s film and obviously until we do, it cannot be screened inside or outside the country,” said the guild’s spokesman, Gholamreza Faraji, on November 28, 2017.
Kahani’s new film, “We Like You Mrs. Yaya,” is a joint Thai-Iranian production filmed in Thailand, with Hamid Farokhnezhad, a well-known Iranian actor, playing the lead role. The producers are awaiting the ministry’s approval to hold screenings in Iran.
Kahani, who has been living in France since 2013, has 10 feature films to his credit, three of which have been banned in Iran: “Over There” (2008), “We’ve Got Time” (2014), and “Delighted” (2016). In addition to “Delighted,” the following films were prohibited from distribution and screening abroad by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance: “Nothing” (2010), “Absolutely Tame Is a Horse” (2011), and “Needlessly and Causelessly” (2012).
“The censors have the power to lock my film in the archives or ban it from foreign festivals but they cannot accuse me of making a film exclusively for foreign audiences,” wrote Kahani in an op-ed published in the reformist Shargh newspaper on July 12, 2017.
“The censors look at a piece of art as a manifesto rather than as a slice of reality,” he added. “How many times do we have to repeat this? The censors do not understand that the filmmaker does not necessarily agree with a story, he is just presenting it.”
*This article was revised on December 20, 2017, to reflect three additional films that Kahani did not screen abroad after he was pressured by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.