Iran: Summer of Hope and Protest

Sadaf Foroughi’s Summer with Hope (2022)

The last few days have brought both infuriating and inspiring news for Iranian filmmakers. Mohammad Rasoulof, who won the Berlinale’s Golden Bear in 2020 for There Is No Evil, and fellow director Mostafa Al-Ahmad were arrested on Friday and charged with plotting to undermine national security. On Saturday, Sadaf Foroughi—in Variety, Guy Lodge calls her “one of the most distinctive voices in new Iranian cinema”—won Karlovy Vary’s top award, the Crystal Globe, for her second feature, Summer with Hope. Then on Monday, renowned director Jafar Panahi, who edited Rasoulof’s The White Meadows (2009), was either asking about or protesting the arrest of Rasoulof at a prosecutor’s office, when he was arrested, too.

Iranian authorities have been trying to silence Rasoulof and Panahi for more than a decade. In 2010, both directors were sentenced to six years in prison; Rasoulof was charged with filming without a permit. Following calls for their release from such high-profile figures and Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, Rasoulof’s sentence was reduced to one year. Panahi remained under house arrest, but he managed to make This Is Not a Film, a documentary smuggled to Cannes on a flash drive hidden inside a birthday cake in 2011. As it happens, Monday was Panahi’s sixty-second birthday.

After Rasoulof’s A Man of Integrity won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes in 2017, his passport was confiscated. Two years later, the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Iran slapped him with another one-year sentence as well as a two-year ban on filmmaking and any other social and political activity. When Rasoulof appealed, he was accompanied on his way to court by several Iranian filmmakers, including Panahi and Asghar Farhadi. In 2020, three of Rasoulof’s films were officially declared “propaganda against the system,” and the verdict led to yet another one-year sentence and a two-year ban on working.

Friday’s arrest follows not another feature or award, but rather Rasoulof’s and Al-Ahmad’s posts on social media with the hashtag #put_your_gun_down, a call to Iranian security forces to ease up on protestors demonstrating in Abadan, a city in the southwest of Iran. Two months ago, forty-one people lost their lives when a building collapsed, and when people took to the streets of Abadan to protest the government corruption that leads to shoddy construction, they were met with clubs and tear gas.

Just hours after the arrests, two Iranian producers, Kaveh Farnam and Farzad Pak, issued a statement calling for the immediate release of Rasoulof and Al-Ahmad through Kino Lorber, the U.S. distributor of Rasoulof’s Manuscripts Don’t Burn (2013) and There Is No Evil. Similar calls have been issued from the Berlinale,Cannes, and the European Film Academy. “What I can observe from my own story,” Rasoulof told IndieWire’s Eric Kohn in 2020, “is that the satisfaction that you receive once you resist oppression and despotism can be higher than the price you have to pay.”

Born in Iran and now based in Montreal, Sadaf Foroughi won a FIPRESCI award and an honorable mention in Toronto for her debut feature, Ava (2017). In his review for Sight and Sound, Jonathan Romney noted that Foroughi “sets out to show” that in contemporary Iran, “even mild infractions of official decorum can lead to a young woman being demonized and made a pariah.” Summer with Hope focuses on the thwarted ambitions of a young man, seventeen-year-old Omid (Mehdi Ghorbani), who is shut out of a swimming competition due to an error in the processing of his application.

Foroughi’s new feature “does more showing than telling, still more hinting than showing, and sometimes counts on us simply to trust our wariest human instincts,” writes Guy Lodge. Summer with Hope is “a slow-burning stick of dynamite, driven by steaming youthful rage against a broken patriarchal system, and sufficiently confident in its ultimate impact as a domestic thriller of sorts to divert us with stylish slatherings of mood.”

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