News  ·  10 | 08 | 2023

'Critical Zone': Censorship and Freedom of Artistic Expression in Iran

We sat down with the films producer to talk about the complexity of filmmaking in Iran.

How did you shoot the movie?


What is interesting is that the conditions and the possibilities that existed for the director played a major role. You get creative when you deal with imposing situations and elements. He divided the film into ten short films, each with his own production and postproduction and at the end we put the film that you see now together. Not in a standard shooting time, but during a very long time. The crew was very small: the main actor, the director, a camera operator and a sound recordist. Some scenes in the airport are shot with a different camera, a little handycam, secretly. When a family receives a relative who visits after a long time, sometimes they film the arrival, so they pretend to be one of the crew. It doesn’t draw too much attention, but you cannot shoot without permission. Sometimes we used fake authorizations, other times we bribed officers. In a corrupt system one shortcut is to pay. I would say that the whole shooting was like a spy movie. Ali Ahmadzadeh, the director, took advantage of this adrenaline of the cast and crew, to tell what he wanted to say as a filmmaker.


Sina Ataeian Dena, you are a producer of Mantagheye bohrani (Critical Zone), but you are also a director. Where do you live?


I live in Berlin, I was here in Locarno in 2015, presenting Paradise in Concorso internazionale. After that I didn’t go back to Iran. The festival had a retrospective on Israeli cinema that year and somebody created a campaign to boycott Locarno as a Zionist festival. Officials in Iran put pressure on me to join this campaign, which I found stupid, as I would find it stupid to say that Iranian filmmakers and the Iranian government are the same thing. The same applies for Israel, in my opinion. I received too many threats.


Do you have family in Iran?


I had it back then, now everyone is out of the country.


I guess it has been really tense since they left Iran.


Eight years ago, I was much younger, now I have grey hair from stress. And the only crime is filmmaking. Traveling around and visiting new people and interesting places is a quality of life, but when forced it becomes unpleasant. We are born free, and we should live free. This is also one of Ali Ahmadzadeh’s topics. His major problem is censorship, the freedom of artistic expression.


Filmmakers in Iran are a real community?


I would say that there is a connection, but Iran has a very specific political climate, and it’s very difficult to explain. For example, reformism is something good in Switzerland, because maybe something needs to be changed. So, when people hear the word reform for Iran, they think that It’s something good that should be supported. But in a system where the power is within a closed circle, solid, there is no complexity. You can never enter if you don’t have an Islamic political opinion. There is no way to reform it. Reform is a big lie, context matters. It took the Iranian people 40 years to realize that there is no way to reform a system that executes people. Firstly, executions should be stopped; it’s an inhumane punishment. Coming back to the cinema community in Iran, it’s huge and organized and they had a labor union much earlier than many other countries. And this sense of community is scary for the system. They are slowly becoming more radical. Here radical can have a negative meaning, in Iran, if you are not radical you are a regime supporter. They are slowly opening their eyes, or maybe just confronting the fact that you don’t have any other way but revolution. That’s why I think it’s inevitable that the mullah regime will collapse, one day. It’s just a question of how much time and how much blood.




Do you think that the international community is doing something to support change in Iran?


I will radically divide western civil society from politicians, that betrayed the Iranian people again. While we are sitting here and talking, they are negotiating to get something out of the dead nuclear agreement back. They are selling to people in the streets. The women, life, and freedom revolution will come back in a bigger way. If you understand society, you will know that. What I want to tell Western civil society is that people that are fighting in Iran share their same values. They want freedom, human rights. We believe in democracy. They are not afraid of us, but they are afraid of you. You can put pressure on your politicians, question your politicians, and ask them to stop dirty business with the Iran regime.


Why is Ali Ahmadzadeh, the director of Mantagheye bohrani not here in Locarno to support the film?


He couldn’t get a visa. A year ago, he was under a lot of pressure, with interrogations by the Ministry of Security and the Revolutionary Guard. They heard about the film, they asked him to bring it, but he refuses still today, as an act of civil disobedience. They accused him of shooting a porn movie because somebody saw a non-explicit erotic scene in the film. Mantagheye bohrani was shot before the women, life and freedom revolution, but you see that the rage and the anger in this society is boiling over. Ali was granted an artist residency in Berlin, and he went to Turkey, three days later Mahsa Amini was killed, and the revolution began. He applied for a visa at the German consulate in Istanbul, he waited for three months. On the last day, he got a negative response, and he went back to Iran. His passport was taken at the airport, and he was submitted for interrogation. Then there was the so-called public mercy, he got his passport back, and then we were invited to Locarno, that offered to bring Ali out of Iran before the press conference of July 5th. But the visa was denied again because, as we have known through verbal contacts, Germany flagged up his case. He can never ever enter the Schengen zone until it is unflagged. No other country in the area can give him a visa. As a new German citizen, I am so disappointed and disillusioned. What is worse is that at the same time we talk about an artist being denied attending the premiere of his film, kids of mullahs get treatment in hospitals in Germany. This is a shame. But they say there is no flag.


If there is no flag, why is he denied the visa now?


Two days after the Locarno Film Festival press conference Ali was interrogated once again, he was blacklisted and now cannot leave Iran. After the secret that we were selected in Locarno was revealed, he was accused not only of shooting a film without permission, but even of showing it without permission, because you need a specific authorization for that. It seems quiet now in Iran, but as we say in Persian ‘fire is underneath the ashes’. The fire will come again in a bigger way, because we have already crossed the tipping point. The regime never wants to compromise, they believe that if they do it even for one millimeter they will lose. That’s the dictatorship mentality. I’m afraid that the regime will arrest Ali after the Locarno Film Festival.


Don’t you think that this attention could be counterproductive for him?


Talking about how the regime acts, I learned that the more you are in the spotlight, the safer you are.


Mauro Donzelli