Iran Threatens to Boycott the Venice Film Festival

Iran Threatens to Boycott the Venice Film Festival
Still from Kianoosh Ayyari's film, “The Paternal House.”

Iran's cinema scene has had a hard time of it recently, with the government laying a heavy hand on the industry — or at least trying to. Jafar Panahi, banned from making films and put under house arrest after speaking out against Iranian leaders in 2009, still managed to make “This Is Not a Film,” which he had smuggled out of the country and shown at the Cannes Film Festival. But even the successes are bittersweet. Asghar Farhadi's “A Separation” won the Oscar, the Golden Globe, and the French César awards for best foreign language film last year, but a planned celebration in the director's home country was canceled after authorities apparently decided that the film’s themes — including the role of women in Iran and the desire to emigrate — were objectionable.

Now, the Iranian government is dealing a new blow to its filmmakers by threatening to boycott the Venice International Film Festival (which runs from August 29 to September 8) in retaliation for recent European sanctions on the Iranian oil industry stemming from the country's nuclear program. The Tehran Times reports that Alireza Sajjadpur, an official with the Iranian ministry of culture and Islamic guidance, said that Iranian films may be withdrawn from the festival. “Due to the strong sanctions imposed by the European Union on Iran, we naturally are thinking over a plan to boycott the festival this year,” Sajjadpur said in a statement.

Currently, one Iranian film appears in the festival's lineup: “The Paternal House,” directed by Kianoosh Ayyari (and pictured above). The film, which is scheduled to be shown out of competition, tells the story of an Iranian man’s life from his teenage years to the age of 86. Boycott aside, the film’s screening is already in doubt because it has not yet been granted the government's authorization to be shown in theaters, since certain edits required by the culture ministry have not yet been made. “I hope that this information is not accurate,” Sajjadpur said when told the film is scheduled for Venice.

The boycott could have implications for Iranian cinema beyond just the showing of Ayyari’s film. Several Iranian delegations attended Cannes in May with the support of the Iranian culture ministry, including the Iranian Young Cinema Society, the Documentary and Experimental Film Center, and the Farabi Cinematic Foundation, according to the Tehran Times. Presumably these groups would no longer be allowed to attend the Venice Film Festival if the boycott is put into effect.

In any case, one film with an Iranian connection will be screened regardless of Iran’s decision. Ramin Bahrani, an Iranian-American director based in the U.S. who made the acclaimed movie “Goodbye Solo” in 2008, will show his new film “At Any Price” in the international competition section of the festival. Starring Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron, the film is a drama about a father who wants his race-car driving son to take over the family farm.

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