Iran Directors Ridicule Suspended Jail Sentence of Filmmaker, Producer

Iranian cinema directors have ridiculed a six-month suspended prison sentence handed down to Saeed Roustayi and his producer for showcasing their movie at last year’s Cannes Film Festival without authorization, saying the move was designed to divert attention from the upcoming anniversary of the eruption of nationwide protests.

They also said international reaction to the sentence earlier this week was laughable.

The Iranian Cinema Directors Association said in an Instagram post that it was “the strangest judiciary sentence in the history of Iranian cinema.”

It said that the movie, “Leila’s Brothers,” had been approved by the government, and that the Iranian government itself had participated at the Cannes festival for years. “Such a strange sentence is a futile attempt to humiliate this young and intelligent filmmaker of Iranian cinema,” the association said.

Roustayi and Javad Noruzbegi have received heavy government funding throughout their careers.

Several independent filmmakers said they saw the sentence as a diversion from the upcoming anniversary of the Sept. 16, 2022, death in custody of Mahsa Amini. She had been detained for allegedly flouting the dress code, and her death sparked nationwide protests in the Islamic republic.

“The sentence is a joke. They [the authorities] want us to forget Mahsa’s anniversary,” filmmaker Mahnaz Mohammadi told Reuters.

She also said international filmmakers’ reaction was laughable as they had fallen into what she called the authorities’ trap in giving the sentence too much importance.

Filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola have shared a petition calling for “justice” for Roustayi and Noruzbegi.

Roustayi, 34, and Noruzbegi, 57, will serve one-twentieth of their jail sentence, about nine days. The remainder will be suspended over five years, according to the reformist Etemad newspaper.

During their suspension period, the defendants will have to take a filmmaking course on the “preservation of national and ethical interests.” They will also not be allowed to meet with other cinema professionals.

“Please, Mr. Scorsese! Do not, for a six-month suspended sentence, divert the attention from Mahsa’s anniversary and women’s demands for their rights, which are being increasingly violated by the day,” said an Iranian film director, asking not to be identified further.

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