Monday, March 8, 2010

Ahmadinejad's Tyranny 'Is Crushing Iran's Artists'

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By Lizzy Davies,
The Observer /

Golshifteh Farahani knows how dangerous it is now to be an artist in Tehran. In 2008 she became the first Iranian-based actress in almost 30 years to appear in a Hollywood blockbuster. Starring opposite Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott's Body of Lies, she hoped the film would be appreciated in her homeland for its critical stance on America's politics in the Middle East. She was wrong. When she returned to Tehran the then 24-year-old was subjected to seven months of inquisition from the authorities of the Islamic republic. Reprimanded for not having asked the permission of the government, she became a regular guest of the Information Ministry and intelligence services. Eventually she cracked. By the time Body of Lies was released, she was an exile in Paris. She does not know when she will go home. Last week, as the Iranian diaspora reeled from the arrest of Jafar Panahi, the most outspoken film director still living in Tehran, Farahani felt a fresh rush of fury towards a regime which critics say is taking ever greater steps towards a total crackdown on free speech. Panahi, a vocal supporter of the opposition movement and known for his award-winning, politically subversive movies, was taken from his home in Tehran on Monday night along with 16 others. Most have since been released, but Panahi remains in detention. He had reportedly been making a documentary on the mass protests which came in the aftermath of last year's disputed elections.

"We are so angry," says Farahani, now 26, and a year and half into her new life as one of the French capital's "family" of Iranian artistic exiles. "Jafar is one, maybe the only one… still in Iran who is talking. Most artists [in Iran] don't talk because they would rather work somehow. I appreciate that, but Jafar is the one who had the courage to talk, and he talked for everyone." Farahani, who is using her time in Paris to make the music she could not have made at home and to pursue her acting career, admits to feeling uncomfortable with her new role as critic-in-exile but says: "There's no bullet in your head. You can talk freely." She feels the changes in Iran are such that she is obliged, as one of her country's most recognised cultural ambassadors, to speak out. For the past month she has worn a green bracelet discreetly under her shirt sleeve – marking her out as a supporter of the green movement led by Mir Hossein Mousavi. Yesterday she travelled to Geneva to take her place on the jury of the annual Human Rights Film Festival. "This time is the time that for 30 years we have been waiting for. We're not kids any more. We are just asking for our rights," she says, speaking as a member of a generation born after the revolution of 1979 and frustrated with the hardline tendencies of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime. As a musician and actress who grew up in a country convulsed by widespread violence and repression, Farahani has seen through her own eyes how Iran has become more hostile to those who dare to speak out through their creativity. (Read more...)