British directors lead boycott of Iran's cultural showpiece

Islamic Republic's biggest film festival is shunned in protest at ongoing crackdown on Iranian opposition

It is Iran's answer to Cannes, Venice and Berlin rolled into one. The cinematic and cultural highlight of the Islamic republic's calendar, the annual Fajr festival in Tehran is a 10-day extravaganza of film, drama, poetry and literature. This year's event, which opens on Monday, ought to be a magnet for the country's artistic elite and a host of international stars.

But Ken Loach and the British theatre director Peter Brook are among leading Western artistic figures who have informed the Islamic regime they are pulling out in protest at its brutal crackdown on the opposition, which includes torture, prison rapes, countless killings and Stalinist-style televised show trials of reformists.

Ministries in charge of the state-run festival had already rescheduled this year's event, so that foreign visitors would not witness expected clashes at "green movement" rallies timed for 11 February, the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution. But the collision of art and political reality has left them scrabbling to find replacement films and plays.

Loach's film Looking for Eric, starring ex-footballer Eric Cantona, was to have featured in the international section, while Peter Brook, who has had an artistic involvement with Iran going back to the 1970s, was to have staged The Grand Inquisitor, an adaptation of a chapter of Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov.

Theo Angelopoulos, the Greek art house director, whose The Dust of Time stars Willem Dafoe and Bruno Ganz , and the French director Philippe Lioret, who made the highly praised Welcome, about migrants in Calais trying to reach the UK, have also decided to withdraw from the event. Cannes award-winning Palestinian director Elia Suleiman is also joining the protest.

The boycott is a response to a plea by Iranian artists. A joint statement from Iranian cinematographers, playwrights and actors, unsigned to protect those still working in the country, had circulated in recent weeks urging their foreign counterparts to stay away from Tehran to avoid conferring respectability on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government. "Your presence in this year's Fajr festival will be akin to ignoring the struggles of oppressed people of Iran for their rights," the statement said. A number of leading Iranian cinema figures including Abbas Kiarosami have already turned down invitations to be on the festival's jury.

Ken Loach said that while many governments, "including our own", commit human rights violations, he felt compelled to back the Iranian artists' appeal.

"It is the request first and foremost from the Iranian film makers that makes you think, and makes you want to support them. There are many repressive regimes and you can't go on individual boycotts. But when the people themselves say, 'Don't come because you will be endorsing the regime that is perpetrating the violence,' you have to stop and think carefully." It was not a question, he said, of taking an automatic pro-Western anti-Iran stance. "But the suppression of the opposition, and it is violent suppression, is there for all to see."

Theo Angelopoulos said that withdrawing his film was a protest at events which have horrified the world. "Freedom of expression is the only form of discourse with a nation's future".

"If I appeared in this festival it would be like providing a cultural alibi for this regime," Philippe Lioret told The Independent. "This is a regime which is killing culture and killing the freedoms of its people. The artistic community in Iran is suffering. In a country where artists are suffering, everyone is suffering. We know this, everybody knows this. I don't want anything to do with it."

Sepideh Farsi is an Iranian film maker who documented Iranians' frustration with their lack of freedom in her film Tehran without Permission, shot with a mobile phone. Last night she predicted that the boycott would send a strong signal of support to the opposition and to ordinary Iranians who in other years have enthusiastically queued for hours to get tickets to the Fajr screenings and theatre productions.

"This is a very big deal in Iran because it is a chance for people to see good international movies. It's very significant that names like Ken Loach should withdraw. Internationally recognised figures are telling the regime, 'We're not playing your game.' Many of these directors have had their work staged or screened in Iran before. But this year, it would be playing the game of this make-believe festival, in a make-believe Iran," she said.

Iranian film makers have been spared the imprisonments, beatings or show trials inflicted on many others in the ongoing crackdown. The intimidation of artists – which has worsened under the hardline government of President Ahmadinejad – is being conducted in subtler ways. These include the cancellation of television contracts or threats of heightened censorship. Plays in rehearsal have to be vetted by government inspectors and can be axed without explanation.

Ken Loach's letter to the Iranian regime

*We wish to withdraw our film Looking for Eric from the Tehran Film Festival. We recognise that many governments, including our own, have committed acts of aggression, broken international law and ignored human rights. However, this boycott is called for by Iranian film makers and artists to protest against the violence against those who oppose the regime and the many abuses of human rights documented by respected bodies like Amnesty. We support this boycott as we support the boycott of cultural events sponsored by the Israeli state. We regret the difficulties this will cause the festival's organisers.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine