A ban on film making hasn't stopped director Mohammad Rasoulof from doing exactly that. His sixth feature, A Man of Integrity, is about an everyday man who makes his life difficult when he doesn't yield to a big, corrupt company. The film was smuggled out of Iran to Cannes, where it won the main prize in the Un Certain Regard competition. At the Dutch premiere at IFFR, the maker was missing in action...
Normally we would interview the director of a film, not its producer. Why are you here instead of Mohammad Rasoulof?
"That's a fair and important question. After the premiere at the Cannes film festival, Mr Rasoulof traveled back to Iran, without any consequences. So he traveled to another festival in the States, and again, nothing happened, besides a bit of nagging. On the tenth of September, when he returned to Iran, he was arrested at the airport where they took his passport and kept him there for a couple of hours. Then he was told to report to the Media and Arts Court. The date on the letter was signed three days after the Cannes screening. The reason why the letter wasn't shown to us before is probably because they wanted to find out what we were up to. In the months after that Mohammad had to regularly report to various groups, where he had to answer very simple, nonsensical questions. I found out, on social media -since I've been living for twenty years now in Dubai- that he had to appear in court and arrived, only to be told that it was postponed because they were in the middle of moving furniture. I told him: Mohammad, why don't you help them move? (laughs).
It sure sounds like harassment to me.
"Exactly. That's because we didn't do anything against the law. We got permission to shooting the film. Afterwards, when we submitted the film, they said: this is different from the script you submitted. Of course, that happens with any film, that you make changes during the shoot and in the editing for artistic reasons. They said: you are lying to us. And then we were also told that there was no artistic or cinematic value toA Man of Integrity. Well, if the film is deemed worthless, we have to put it in the trash bin. And our trash bin was called Cannes."
But if I understand correctly, Mr Rasoulof had previously been banned from filmmaking for twenty years. So how is it possible for him to get permission to shoot a feature? And when is a ban not a ban?
"To be fair, even for us Iranians the situation is very difficult to understand. But we got used to it. In a country of corruption and unusual and irregular relations, anything can happen. The courage of Mohammad is that he choose to resist, even if it ultimately leads to seven years in jail, as he is on probation. How did the ban not stop him? The two films before were made outside of Iran. Goodbye was shot with a very small camera, in a hidden way. And Tehran is a huge city and Iran a big country. There is plenty of opportunity. The system is made of many parts, and they don't like each other, they are not communicating and they all try to put the responsibility on to other people's shoulders. The way our society is run, it's mismanagement. Take Iranian Radio and Television for instance. It is the biggest government broadcaster in the world. France's Channel 1 has about 1000 employees. Do you know how many are working at the Iranian broadcaster? 50.000! The system is corrupt and badly mismanaged. Cinema is part of that, but so is the publishing business, music, and even football."
The main character in A Man of Integrity is very stubborn. The same could be said about Mr Rasoulof, I guess.
"As I like to tell, the real man of integrity is Mohammad. The story of the film is based on his own experiences. But they are experiences that everybody in Iran has had. It is the normal situation, happening on every corner. He is just more sensitive and thus able to capture it."
It's a very good picture, and nice for an Dutch audience to see, but isn't it a shame that it maybe plays to the wrong audience? Isn't it a shame it can't be shown to viewers in the home country?
"His films have never been screened in Iran, unfortunately. I think Mohammad would agree that if they offered us the chance to withdraw the film from theatres in Europe and return the Cannes award, that in return we could screen A Man of Integrity in Iran, we would accept. BUT! This film addresses a topic that is not exclusively Iranian. The experience of dealing with a corrupt system is one you can have in many, many places. We made it in Farsi, because that's our language and we shot in Iran, but it really has a global message. The whole world is suffering from corruption."
Photo in header: Interview: Anton Damen