Protest against Montreal International documentaries film festival

Thursday, November 17, 2005 -Montreal Gazette & Ottawa Citizen:

Yank movie: filmmakers. Pair protest against festival afterlearning organizers accepted cash from Iranian regime:

Two Iranian filmmakers living in exile in Ottawa and New York are demanding the withdrawal of a hard-hitting documentary from a Montreal film festival after learning organizers accepted a subsidy from the Iranian regime. Their film is about prostitution in Iran, but the filmmakers say the "real prostitutes" are organizers of the cash-strapped festival, who accepted $2,000 from Iran to mount a retrospective series of Iranian films. But the organizers are unwilling to yank the 34-minute film, called Epitaph, from the program of the eighth annual Rencontres internationales du documentaire, because they think it's too good to lose. A festival director yesterday called the filmmakers' protest "complacent and absurd," as it denies the public a chance to see the very repressive conditions the filmmakers deplore. The filmmakers' response: They'll picket the theatre if the screening isn't cancelltheaterm sorry for those who want to see it, but there is no place for Epitaph at a festival that supports the murderous Iranian regime by accepting its money," producer Lila Ghobady said yesterday from Ottawa. "It is monstrous hypocrisy for the festival to even consider accepting funds from Iran and then to screen a film that chronicles the savage human rights abuses that are going on there. "Who, I ask, are the real prostitutes?" Epitaph was shot in Iran in early 1988 by underground filmmaker Moslem Mansouri, who fled the country later that year and now lives in New York.

The video footage stayed unseen before being edited in Sweden in 2004. The documentary is one of 19 Iranian films the Montreal festival is showing in a special retrospective series juxtaposing classic Iranian documentaries from the 1960s and '70s with more contemporary works. Organizers got $2,000 from the Iranian embassy in Ottawa to pay for transport of some of the old
35-millimetre films from Iran, and publicly thanked the Tehran government on opening night last Thursday. The subsidy came to light after organizers that night were heckled by local
Iranian Canadians, including Stephan Hashemi, son of Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who was killed in jail in Iran in 2003. Ghobady, 30, heard of the row over the funds from Iran only by fluke, from a professor at Carleton University, where she studies social work. The professor had come back from Montreal with a copy of a write-up in The Gazette. The festival has screened works by Ghobady and Mansour before. The last was the award-winning Trial, in 2002, a film about clandestine filmmaking in Iran. Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore and other directors praised the work. Yesterday, programming director Bernard Boulad said it's Ghobady's right to ask that Epitaph be withdrawn, but he added it would be a shame. "I find it totally absurd," Boulad said. "That film is the one that is the most critical of the regime, and she wants to pull it. It's ridiculous, even complacent." But Ghobady said the issue is more than just the film she produced. It's a question of principle. "For God's sake, this is Canada," she said yesterday. "Iran kills a Canadian citizen (Kazemi) in one of its jails, and then we feel it's OK to take money from them? No way"

Iranian support should be shunned Montreal Gazette Friday, November 18,
2005 Page: A22 Section: Editorial / Op-Ed - The Gazette
With its numerous and varied film festivals, Montreal is one of the best places in the world to enjoy movies of all types. And controversies about movies and movie festivals. This week, it's the turn of the eighth annual Rencontres internationales du documentaire. This year, the event is showcasing 19 Iranian documentaries, both classics from the 1960s and 1970s and later works. The controversy springs from the fact two Iranian filmmakers, living in exile in Ottawa and New York, are demanding that the Montreal festival withdraw the documentary they produced, about prostitution in Iran. The two are right to make this strange demand. Iranian pictures have been welcomed at film festivals around the world, largely for their unflinching, candid look at social problems. As a window onto a land and people who seem to occupy a critically important geo-political place in the modern world, Iran's films cannot be matched. But studying a country through its feature films and documentaries is not the same thing as ignoring its well-documented human rights abuses.
Knowledge can lead to greater understanding, but will not necessarily lead to acceptance. Nor should it. Filmmakers Moslem Mansouri of New York and Lila Ghobady of Ottawa want to
protest the fact the festival organizers accepted a $2,000 gift from
the Iranian embassy in Ottawa. The money was used to transport
35-millimetre films from Iran. Organizers of the festival publicly thanked the Tehran government on opening night last Thursday. Remember that our own government has accused the Tehran regime of complicity in the 2003 killing of a Canadian citizen, Montreal photojournalist Zahra Kazemi.
For festival organizers to accept money and then thank such a regime is reprehensible. Surely, any necessary money could have been obtained from other, untainted sources. Ghobady is right to say it is a question of principle not to take money from
Iran. One can only wonder what message programming director Bernard Boulad imagines he is sending out when he says the public would be better off seeing the two filmmakers' documentary, and that the question of the money is not relevant. The point is the film can and doubtless will be screened at other venues.
But no opportunity should be missed in driving home to the Tehran
government that Canada does not countenance the murder of one of its citizens in a totalitarian regime's prison. Indeed, there is plenty to dislike in Iran these days, where recent none-too-free elections led to a new hard-line government that is industriously cracking down on the whole cultural sector. There may be fewer
searingly honest documentaries about social problems in the years to come. In any case, $2,000, or any other amount, cannot justify what amounts to co-operation with a regime like that one. While the Canadian government needs to keep diplomatic channels open, individual Canadians - and film festivals - are better advised to shun Iran's regime as much as possible,all the while doing what we can to keep in touch with the hapless citizens of that tightly gripped land.
Saturday Nov 19th, Gazette:
A Montreal film festival has agreed to cancel the screening this afternoon of an Iranian documentary after being denounced for accepting a $2,000 subsidy from that country's regime.
In its place, the festival will hold a public discussion on the theme of arts and politics, using the controversy to spark debate.
But organizers stand by their decision to solicit grants from repressive governments like Iran's, even if it means alienating filmmakers persecuted by them.
"All festivals do business with regimes that are often quite
questionable -all the festivals in the world," said Bernard Boulad, head of programming for the week-long Rencontres internationales du documentaire."Look at China, look at the Olympic Games that are going to happen there in 2008. All the heads of state will be there, smiling and walking the red carpet. No one criticizes that. Why not?"
The festival cancelled today's screening of Epitaph, a 34-minute video documentary about prostitution. It was shot clandestinely in Iran in 1988, edited in Sweden  and released last year at international festivals.
The two Iranian exiles who made the film - New York-based director Moslem Mansouri and Ottawa-based producer Lila Ghobady - demanded Tuesday that it be withdrawn.
They were reacting to news of a $2,000 grant the Iranian
embassy in Ottawa gave the festival to pay for the transport of some 35-millimetre films from Iran.
Epitaph was to have been the hardest-hitting of 19 Iranian
documentaries being screened at the eighth annual festival, which ends tomorrow.
When she suggested this week the festival's organizers are "the real prostitutes" for taking the handout, Ghobady proved she's part of  the "radical fringe" that accepts no compromise, Boulad said.
"Calling us prostitutes,' that was too strong. It was tasteless. With that kind of discourse, we get nowhere. It helps no one."
For now, Ghobady is taking her film elsewhere. Montrealers will get a second chance to see it 8pm on Jan. 20 at the Nima Library, 5206 D?rie Blvd., Suite 3.
"It's not a perfect place to show the film," said Ghobady, who moved
to Canada in 2002. "But better there than at some festival that doesn't respect us."

Lila Ghobadi