Venice Film Festival’s red carpet swapped glamour for politics on Saturday, hosting a flash mob in solidarity with the Iranian people, fighting against repression, as well as filmmakers who are being oppressed – and arrested – because of their work.
Such as “Leila’s Brothers” director Saeed Roustaee, recently sentenced to six months in prison for showing the film in Cannes. He has also been banned from making movies.
“Born in 1989, Roustaee represents a new generation of Iranian auteurs, and one who’s sly enough to embed his complex social critiques so deep into the fabric of sprawling modern stories that he hasn’t upset the regime. Not yet, at least,” ominously wrote Variety’s Peter Debruge following its premiere at the French fest.
Roustaee also made “Life and a Day” and thriller “Just 6.5,” which was shown in Venice.
“We are doing this because there is a revolution going on. It’s a feminine movement, but one that calls for democracy and freedom. Why here, in Venice? Because it’s an international event where our voice, and the message of the women who are fighting for their rights, can be heard all over the world,” Jalal Saraji of Italy’s Associazione Democratica degli Iraniani told Variety moments before heading to the red carpet.
“Being here already makes this moment historic. It’s only the second time they do something like that in Venice, and before it was also connected to the situation in Iran,” he added, referring to the previous call for justice for Jafar Panahi.
Soon, Saraji was standing arm in arm with the jurors, including Jane Campion and Damien Chazelle, as well as Venice chief Alberto Barbera. Holding photos of the likes of Roustaee or murdered Mahsa Amini, and banners calling for people to “Rise With Women of Iran” or stating “Donna, vita, libertà” (“Woman, Life, Freedom”).
“It’s about freedom for all,” Saleh Bakri, “The Blue Caftan” star and one of the jurors this year, shared with Variety after the event.
“Freedom for Iran, but also for every oppressed country and its people who fight. I am with them, from the bottom of my heart. I understand their suffering. I am a Palestinian and I have been longing for freedom for a very long time, since I can remember.”
Premiering on the same day, Venice Horizons’ entry “Tatami” – about an Iranian judo champion facing the biggest dilemma of her life – also delivered its own statement: “I wore what they ordered me to, I repeated everything they told me. I am one of millions of people under the control of the Islamic regime of Iran. None of us matter to them. We are all tools,” proclaim the protagonists played by Arienne Mandi and Zar Amir Ebrahimi, who co-directs with Guy Nattiv.
Ebrahimi, who fled the country following a scandal that has threatened to derail her career, has been an outspoken critic of the regime. She also joined the protest.
“At one point, Guy wanted to remove this monologue. I insisted on adding it, because I made this movie as an Iranian and I have to make a statement as well. You don’t always feel like doing it, but you have to tell the world you are done. Also because it can be inspiring to others,” she told Variety in Venice. “Courage can be contagious.”
“We speak as one, and Giornate expresses the same concern and solidarity as the entire Venice Film Festival in the face of the tragedy underway in Iran, which also strikes artists and intellectuals,” said Gaia Furrer, artistic director of Giornate degli Autori, which showed Ayat Najafi’s “The Sun Will Rise” only a few days ago.
“It is hardly surprising that we have selected a major film that bears witness by creating a dialogue between the ancient culture of Greek theater and the unacceptable situation in the country today, and brings home to us the plight of Iranian women.”
“Together with the Venice Film Festival, Giornate has now chosen to support the flash mob held in the name of freedom for the artists and intellectuals who have been threatened, silenced and imprisoned; all of Venice speaks with one voice to draw the media’s attention to a tragedy which the whole world should acknowledge as such.”
Multiple film festivals have been protesting against ongoing repressions in Iran, including Locarno, where Ebrahimi presented the closing film “Shayda.” The director of the Golden Leopard winner “Critical Zone,” Ali Ahmadzadeh, was banned from leaving the country.
“Festivals have great power as well as huge responsibilities: the power to be a cultural reference and make political statements, to reach people widely and connect emotionally with them,” added Beatrice Fiorentino, general delegate for Venice International Film Critics’ Week.
“We also have the responsibility to strongly raise our voice and take a position, to call out the world’s injustices for what they really are. We need to believe that things might change also thanks to our active role: this is what it means to be a community.”