The sentence handed down to Iranian filmmaker Saeed Roostaei and his producer after they showcased a movie at the Cannes Film Festival without government approval have sparked swift condemnations from inside and outside Iran.
Roostaei and producer Javad Norouzbeigi traveled to the southern French city of Cannes last year to show “Leila’s Brothers.” The film didn’t take the coveted Palme d’Or but ended up winning two other awards.
The film focuses on an Iranian family struggling to make ends meet as the country faces an ailing economy and a rapid depreciation of its currency. It includes sequences showing street protests and security forces beating demonstrators.
Earlier this week, the Tehran-based Etemad newspaper reported that Roostaei and Norouzbeigi were sentenced to six months in prison on the charge of “propaganda against the system.”
The men showcased the film “in line with the counterrevolutionary movement...with the aim of fame-seeking in order to prepare fodder and intensify the media battle against Iran’s religious sovereignty,” Tehran’s Revolutionary Court said in its ruling, according to Etemad.
The court suspended all but 10 days of the prison sentence for the next five years, the newspaper reported.
The two men will also be banned from filmmaking and communicating with those in the film industry during that period and must attend a filmmaking course at the state Radio and Television University in Qom while “maintaining national and moral interests.”
Angry reactions against the sentence, which can be appealed, were swift.
Inside Iran, the Association of Cinema Directors issued a statement calling it "the most peculiar judicial decision in the history of Iranian cinema" and "a futile effort to humiliate this talented and insightful filmmaker."
“If you think that by issuing such humiliating rulings, you are helping to solve problems, bring people together, create joy and hope and strengthen national security, then you have not been successful,” the association said.
France’s Biarritz International Film Festival, at which Roostaei chaired the jury this year, urged the Iranian judiciary to quash the sentence, saying that “his only crime is being a free-spirited filmmaker.”
“Although he’s not even 35, his sharp take on society makes him one of today’s major international filmmakers,” the festival said.
American director Martin Scorsese asked people to sign an online petition to protest the sentence “so they can continue to be a force of good in the world.”
Iranian filmmakers and actors have long faced government pressure at home, particularly after the September 2022 death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini sparked months of nationwide protests.
Several film directors have been arrested for their work in recent months, and films have been banned from screening.
The Islamic Republic has cracked down hard on the protest movement, killing at least 520 people across the country and unlawfully detaining 20,000, activists say. Following biased trials, the judiciary has handed down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.