A video showing prominent Iranian filmmaker Dariush Mehrjui angrily protesting a government decision to bar his latest film has gone viral on social media.
In the video, Mehrjui says that the Ministry of Culture did not respect the screening license it had issued for the movie and promises to stage a sit in with his assistants outside the ministry building in Tehran.
Films, like books and musical production go through an arduous process of censorship reviews by government officials. Without their permit, no film can be screened or music released legally.
Ministry officials said that the screening license issued it in 2019 had expired. But the director argued that that his film is not a perishable commodity and does not have an expiration date. Wednesday evening, the culture ministry agreed to renew the film’s screening license but not for the upcoming Iranian New Year, Nowruz, a time that films can make money.
Mehrjui fears that his latest movie La Minor, would be banned forever, as another one of his films Santuri was banned the night before its screening was supposed to start in 2007. Both of these films are about music and musicians, an issue the Islamic Republic has never felt comfortable about.
After Santuri was banned, the movie's producer has a heart attack and died, some say because the ban meant a huge financial loss for him and Mehrjui. Many social media users now warn that anything could happen to Mehrjui, who is now 81 and as the video shows can hardly tolerate the stress caused by the indefinite delay in the screening of his film.
Mehrjui's first motion picture, The Cow (1969) saved the Iranian film industry immediately after the 1979 Islamic revolution as hardliners who had set fire to movie houses during the revolution were against cinema. However, the founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeyni said films like The Cow were good to go on screen. His statement saved Iranian cinema.
Before the revolution, another one of Mehrjui's films, The Circle (1975), that had revealed corruption in blood supply business in Iranian hospitals, created a political controversy that delayed the screening of the movie for two years, but prompted the government to launch the national blood transfusion organization to ensure that hospitals receive clean blood donated by citizens.
After the revolution, Mehrjui who had gone to live in Exile in France, returned in 1986 and made The Lodgers, which also became controversial as many viewers and critics believed the film depicted the story of Iran's transition after the revolution.This was the story of a house on the verge of collapse with many tenants from various walks of life. At the end of the movie as the man living on the top floor put too much burden on the roof by making a roof garden, the building collapsed as soon as a pigeon sat on the water tank on the roof.
In the 1990s Mherjui became a national celebrity by making his trilogy about the problems of Iranian women: Sara (1992), Leila (1996) and The Lady (1999). The Lady depicted the story of a woman let down by her husband. While her husband is away, poor families in the neighborhood occupy her house while she is still living there. The film was frowned at by the government as another attempt to portray the revolution in a bad light, and was banned after a few days in cinemas.
Regardless of the popularity of his films, the government and its censorship apparatus never left Mehrjui alone. The latest attempt by the government to indefinitely delay the screening of La Minor, is seen by many viewers and film industry activist as another blow against an artist that has done nothing other than doing his job of showing the Iranian society to itself.