Bahman Ghobadi, the Iranian filmmaker in exile who has won awards in Cannes, Berlin, San Sebastian and many other international festivals, wrote a letter to the Academy of Cinema saying: “It would be great if we could have a representing artists in exile.
Read his letter in full below.
Ghobadi, who has been in exile for 13 years, joined the Academy of Cinema Arts and Sciences in 2017. In his letter to Academy CEO Dawn Hudson, he talks about artists in exile and suggests that each year, one of their films is slated to go to the Academy for Oscar consideration. He notes that the same happened for the Tokyo Olympics, where a team of refugee athletes was able to join the competition.
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Iran is a country with a complicated cinematic heritage. On the one hand, he gave birth to some of the greatest directors in the world – I’m thinking of Abbas Kiarostami – and his films have won Oscars and Palme d’Or. But the country’s cinema has also been linked to its politics, sometimes inextricably.
In 2013, Iran boycotted the Oscars completely, not allowing any of its directors to submit films on their behalf. Ironically, the year before, Asghar Farhadi’s film A separation won the Best Foreign Language Film for Iran at the Oscars.
Ghobadi’s letter quotes, among others, Jafar Panahi, who was arrested in 2010 and banned from making films but continued to work under threat of imprisonment. His 2015 film Taxi won the Golden Bear in Berlin, and in 2018 Panahi lamented that his own films, including The white balloon – which won the Camera d’Or 1995 at Cannes – may be screened in other countries but has not been allowed to be screened in Iran.
by Ghobadi Father of my children won the Special Jury Prize and two other prizes at Cannes in 2009, and he shared the Camera d’Or at the 2000 festival for A time for drunken horses. by Ghobadi Abandoned in Iraq won the François Chalais prize in Cannes in 2002, and his Turtles can fly won the Peace Film Award at the 2005 Berlin Film Festival.
Here is Ghobadi’s letter to Academy CEO Dawn Hudson in full:
I would like his homeland to be like a violet and that you could take it everywhere with you.
I – Bahman Ghobadi – as a member of the Academy of Oscars – would like to address the concerns of many filmmakers around the world, including myself. We are filmmakers far from our countries of origin while we are still identified according to the countries from which we come. As an Iranian, I cannot live in my own country because of the Islamic regime in Iran. I have to live in exile simply because I have claimed my rights and my freedom of expression. This is the case with many filmmakers around the world; these people cannot return to their country of origin for various reasons and they have no choice but to live in foreign countries.
Although a member of the Academy of Oscars, due to my current status, countries like Iran and Turkey will not present me as their representatives. Needless to say, there are a lot of independent filmmakers living in their own countries who have been disenfranchised and are suffering in silence. The works of these brave filmmakers are not only censored and banned by the regimes, they also never get the opportunity to enter the Academy of Oscars. Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof are good examples alongside a group of Russian and Chinese filmmakers who have to work under a lot of pressure and censorship.
On the other hand, I also have to grapple with other issues. Other than having to carry this huge burden on my shoulders, I don’t know what language I should use to make my film so that it can be shown in other countries. The only thing I can do is hope that a government appreciates my art and presents it to the academy.
I’m sure there are other filmmakers who have to suffer like me. Therefore, it would be great if we could have a representative of the artists in exile. This happened at the Tokyo Olympics, where a team of refugee athletes was also allowed to participate in the competition. There could be a refugee filmmaker team; they can have their works viewed by a jury and possibly a film can be chosen from the refugee team. It is not only a great opportunity for these filmmakers to see their works internationally, but also an awareness of their condition and the reasons why they do not live in their country of origin. These artists can gain a lot of publicity, which will give them more opportunities and financial support. I am making this request on behalf of other artists living in exile; artists who have the same condition as me. Hope you can pay your immediate attention to this problem.