In Iran Face Islamic Censorship, Lack of Western Financial Backing
By Joshua B. Good
Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007
Moslem Mansouri, 43, is an exiled Iranian director living in Los Angeles. He smuggled raw footage out of Iran for his 2002 film, The Trial. The movie deals with the censorship of underground films in Iran and the jailing of Iranian director Ali Matini. Matini spent three years in prison and was released after he agreed to never make another movie. The Trial won best documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2003 and is being screened at Iranian cultural centers around the country. On Tuesday (Feb. 27, 2007) Mansouri spoke, through a translator, with editor Joshua B. Good. The following are excerpts of the interview:
What is the situation for filmmakers today in Iran?
Anything that you want to do it has to pass through the censorship. But in the last couple years the underground cinema has been established. And some of the filmmakers and the students in the cinema are making films underground, meaning without the permission of the government. And it is really dangerous to do it this way because the price is jail in Iran.
Whatís the most jail time an Iranian director can get?
It depends on what conditions they are arrested and what they are arrested for. Right now there is somebody I know who was actually arrested in 2003 and there is no word on when she will be released. Her name is Mona Molla Khani. She intended to make a movie about the girls in Iran and suicide. In Iran they sometimes force girls to marry Ö The parents want to force them Ö Sometimes the conditions are unbearable. They actually burn themselves. Suicide by fire.
You were jailed in Iran for making a movie. What happened?
I wasnít making a film at the time. I was actually arrested for selling a book that was against the government of Iran.
How do filmmakers get around the censorship rules in Iran?
First of all when you have a project you have to present it to the Iranian government and they have to OK it before you make the film. And itís really hard because it has to go through the censorship. You are being censored no matter what. It takes 10 years, 12 years to make it. When they make this film after 10 or 12 years, itís not the film that they really wanted.
There are some talented students who want to make a film but when they go through this hassle they figure itís better to make nothing. No producer will come forward for them because itís such a hassle. And they are not given permission to make a film again. Thatís one way to get rid of these young, talented filmmakers.
And when they make the film, they [Iranian censors] have to see it before it comes to the screen. And they will cut that one, too.
Where did you film ďThe Trial?Ē
A village close to Tehran.
Was there any difficulty smuggling it out?
Yes, I had to send it illegally. To bring it out without permission.
What is the movie about?
Itís about a gentleman who made movies, he wrote about 120 books. He was arrested for making that movie and he promised not to make any more. This is about them making that film. His name is Ali Matini.
Matini was jailed for three years, then signed a pledge not to make films again. Couldnít he be punished for participating in your movie?
He made 18 movies. He wanted it to be documented what he has done. So he accepted the risk to make this film. Actually I made fake ID, fake permits that actually said he had permission to make [The Trial].
Do you have family in Iran? Could they be punished because of your films?
I have everybody in Iran. They are not into political issues, no. The regime is basically sensitive to those who work in politics or anything against the government.
Does the Iranian government consider your work American propaganda?
No, I donít think so. I have my own beliefs.
Do you get any money from the U.S. government to make your films?
No. Nobody actually sponsors my films.
Is there more censorship in the Middle East or less because of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
There is actually more censorship because of the war. Because of the instability of the society. Again, the instability allowed some people to do some work. Because, again, the instability brings the inability to control. Because of the instability the artists are able to do some of this stuff because they cannot be controlled.
Do you have complete freedom here in the U.S. to make your movies?
I do have it, but I cannot make movies because I cannot have any sponsor. You can say anything you want, but nobody gives a hoot about it.
Financing is a problem?
Yes, but everywhere you go they have their own problems.
What would happen if the United States bombed Iran?
The only way the people can reach the freedom and what they want is by reaching it themselves. But the U.S. attacking Iran doesnít have any benefit for the people of Iran.
Thereís something else Iíd like to say. Since we establish contact with Iranian artists in Iran and overseas, itís actually established a subject which is child abuse in Iran. The selling of children, Iranian children, overseas. But as I thought about it, it hasnít gone forward. If no one comes forward here to help, economically sponsoring. One of the reason is the people who are making the film are students and they canít afford it and they donítí have all the equipment they need.
When you ask a producer or sponsor to make it, we donít get it. But we are actually asking anybody who is interested in the humanitarian situation in Iran to come forward.
We would like to say whomever wants to help and however they want to help, we are looking forward to it.
It is art that wants to dedicate itself to the human life and human dignity.