IFFK: I want nothing but natural rights, says Iranian filmmaker Mahnaz Mohammadi

The filmmaker and women’s rights activist is the recipient of the 27th International Film Festival of Kerala’s Spirit of Cinema Award. She speaks to ‘The Hindu’ in an e-mail interview

December 09, 2022 08:46 pm | Updated 08:46 pm IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

Mahnaz Mohammadi

Mahnaz Mohammadi

Fearlessness is a quality Mahnaz Mohammadi is often associated with. But the Iranian filmmaker and women’s rights activist, recipient of the 27th International Film Festival of Kerala’s (IFFK) Spirit of Cinema Award, says her first exposure to cinema, as a child, started with fear. Unable to make it to Kerala due to a travel ban imposed by the Iranian government due to her activism, she speaks at length to The Hindu in an email interview.

“My first exposure to movies as a child started with fear. I saw a picture that was very horrifying. The whole family remembers me crying. It was a black-and-white image of a burnt land where no one existed. I was screaming and shouting, asking where are we?,” says Ms. Mohammadi, recollecting her first memories of watching a film.

She counts Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky and Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr, who will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the IFFK this week, among the many who inspired her over the years.

Her major documentaries include Women Without Shadows and Travelogue. In 2019, she directed her first feature film, Son-Mother, on the travails of a widow in Iran, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Ms. Mohammadi says the transition from documentary to cinema was quite different as “the experience of working with a larger group was fascinating and challenging”, even though “in both forms, the essence is the same – to tell stories that matter.”

Ms. Mohammadi, who has been vocal for women’s rights in Iran for the past several years, is active in the ongoing protests in Iran following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, after she was arrested for not wearing hijab as per government diktats. The Iranian security forces had arrested Ms. Mohammadi several times since 2007, with the latest instance being during the protests demanding justice for Amini.

“In a society with unequal rules, life is full of challenges. I want nothing but natural rights. My friends and colleagues are in prison or have no way to continue their activities with heavy sentences, and young people are arrested, tortured and killed. The government does not give any rights to women. If women had rights, Armita Abbasi would not be in prison. The news about her health is very horrifying. No one from the government is accountable. They hold arbitrary courts. Yesterday (December 8), they executed Mohsen Shekari, a young man. The news from the regime is not to be trusted. All these announcements are for other countries so as to regain the seat they had lost at the UN Women’s Commission. They lie continuously,” she says.

Ms. Mohammadi says she is sad that she could not visit Kerala except in ‘spirit’, which she decided to do by sending a lock of her hair through Greek filmmaker Athina Rachel Tsangari as a mark of protest against the Iranian regime.

“This is a difficult time we are going through. Women and girls cut their hair and set fire to their headscarves, and the slogan of all women is freedom. I promised myself to celebrate this with Kerala, but I cannot visit you except in ‘spirit’. We need your solidarity now to save our youth. We do not want anything other than the obvious right to determine our own destiny,” says Ms. Mohammadi.

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