Mohammad Rasoulof Details His ‘Exhausting and Dangerous’ Escape from Iran Before ‘The Seed of the Sacred Fig’ Debuts at Cannes

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Few filmmakers have ever sacrificed more for their craft than Mohammad Rasoulof, the Iranian director who has faced non-stop legal pressure from his country’s government in recent years over his politically charged films. Rasoulof, who has been arrested and imprisoned on multiple occasions, is bringing his latest film, “The Seed of the Sacred Fig,” to the Main Competition at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival. But weeks before the film — which follows a judge in Tehran navigating political fallout from protests — was set to debut on the Croisette, Rasoulof was sentenced to eight years of imprisonment and a flogging in Iran.

Many interpreted the sentence as an attempt to force Rasoulof to pull his provocative film from Cannes. But the auteur soon fled the authoritarian country and found shelter in Germany with the hope of attending his film’s premiere this week. In a new interview with The Guardian, conducted from an undisclosed location, Rasoulof shared details about his escape from Iran and why his struggles have not deterred him from making films.

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“It was a several-hour long, exhausting, and extremely dangerous walk that I had to do with a guide,” Rasoulof said of his covert escape to a safe house across the border. “I had to stay there quite long before they could transfer me to a town, and from there to a place where I could be in touch with German authorities.”

While Rasoulof accepts that he will likely have to return to Iran and face imprisonment at some point, he explained his escape was motivated by his desire to make the films that are important to him while he still has his freedom.

“I wrote many projects when I was in prison, and I’ve always felt that if I go to prison for years, I won’t have the strength or the ability to make these films,” he said. “So first I have to make them, and then after, it’s always time to go back and to go to prison… My mission is to be able to convey the narratives of what is going on in Iran and the situation in which we are stuck as Iranians. This is something that I cannot do in prison.”

The filmmaker went on to suggest that the Iranian government’s interest in him stemmed from a desire to silence other filmmakers. He expressed hope that his courage could inspire other filmmakers in similar situations to find ways to keep making art.

“They’re just trying to scare everyone and to push everyone out of any attempt to make films or express themselves or use their freedom just because of this illusion of control,” he said. “And so my message to my peers, to other filmmakers, is: There are ways.”

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