Neon Nabs ‘Seed of the Sacred Fig,’ From Iranian Director Who Fled Flogging in Home Country

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Neon has acquired the North American rights to “The Seed of the Sacred Fig,” the newest film from Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof. The movie will debut at Cannes on May 24.

The company snagged the rights after a competitive bidding war for the movie, which stars Setareh Abdolmaleki, Zahra Rostami, Amineh Mazroei Arani, and Niousha AkhshiVardoogh.

“The Seed of the Sacred Fig” tells the story of Iman, an investigating judge in the Revolutionary Court in Tehran, who struggles with mistrust and paranoia as nationwide political protests intensify and his gun mysteriously disappears. Suspecting the involvement of his wife Najmeh and his daughters Rezvan and Sana, he imposes drastic measures at home, causing tensions to rise. Step by step, social norms and the rules of family life are being suspended.

The movie is produced by Rasoulof, Amin Sadraei, Mani Tilgner, Rozita Hendijanian, Jean-Christophe Simon, and co-produced by ARTE France Cinéma with the support of Aide aux Cinémasdu Monde, Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée, and Institut français with the support of MOIN Film Fund Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein.

It remains to be seen if Rasoulof will make an appearance at Cannes. The director is hidden in an undisclosed European location after he fled Iran in May. “I arrived in Europe a few days ago after a long and complicated journey,” he explained in a statement. “About a month ago, my lawyers informed me that my eight-year prison sentence was confirmed in the court of appeal and would be implemented on short notice.”

“Knowing that the news of my new film would be revealed very soon, I knew that without a doubt, a new sentence would be added to these eight years. I didn’t have much time to make a decision. I had to choose between prison and leaving Iran. With a heavy heart, I chose exile. The Islamic Republic confiscated my passport in September 2017. Therefore, I had to leave Iran secretly.”

Rasoulof was sentenced to 8 years in prison for being involved in films that are considered “examples of collusion with the intention of committing a crime against the country’s security” and for statements against Iran’s authoritarian leadership.

“Of course, I strongly object to the unjust recent ruling against me that forces me into exile,” his statement continued. “However, the judicial system of the Islamic Republic has issued so many cruel and strange decisions that I do not feel it is my place to complain about my sentence. Death sentences are being executed as the Islamic Republic has targeted the lives of protesters and civil rights activists.”

His 2020 arrest was not Rasoulof’s first at the hands of the regime. In 2010 he was sentenced to 6 years in prison after he was accused of filming without a permit, and his passport was confiscated in 2017.

In 2019, Rasoulof was sentenced to a one year prison term and two year ban on leaving the country following his film “A Man of Integrity.” The following year saw yet another arrest and year-long sentencing that prohibited him from attending the Berlin Film Festival. His most recent imprisonment in 2022 ended after he went on hunger strike.

Rasoulof was forced to leave his trackable electronic devices and flee Iran on foot, an “exhausting and extremely dangerous walk” he accomplished with the help of an unidentified guide. He hid in a safehouse in Germany for some time while authorities confirmed his identity and gave him papers that will allow him to travel throughout Europe.

Of the Iranian state, the director explained, “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. And so my message to my peers, to other film-makers, is: there are ways.”

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