News about Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof

Deja vu horrible news out of Iran. (Another story I’ve been following is the persecution of Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, which has been going on for two years now. Last year he was arrested and tortured for supporting the Women Life Freedom movement. He was released and made a video describing how he was tortured, uploading it to his Instagram. He was arrested again, violently. Toomaj has now been sentenced to death.)

Just as with Jafar Panahi, the regime has been after Rasoulof for years. He is outspoken, nervy, brave. His films criticism the regime without euphemism. He has been arrested, jailed numerous times, his passport was confiscated in 2011. He has now been given an 8-year prison sentence and a flogging. (Barbaric.)

Rasoulof’s 2013 film Manuscripts Don’t Burn (2013) is one of the bravest and riskiest films to come out of Iran since the pro-democracy revolution was hijacked by mullahs in 1979. Manuscripts Don’t Burn is so risky that none of the cast members OR crew are listed by name in the credits, for their own protection.

(Jafar Panahi did the same thing in his great – and illegally made – This Is Not a Film.)

Manuscripts Don’t Burn is based on real events: the regime’s henchmen track down, torture, and kill, dissident writers. The film’s title universalizes the message. This is not just an Iran story. “Manuscripts don’t burn” is a famous line from perhaps one of the most famous dissident works of all time, Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. Bulgakov considered the manuscript too dangerous to even have around in the Terror of Stalin’s 1930s – so Bulgakov burned his 20th century masterpiece. And remember: HE was “spared” by Stalin! Stalin “let him live”. But still: even having the manuscript hidden in a drawer was too dangerous. Years later, Bulgakov rewrote the book from memory, but it was, of course, still un-publishable. They had private readings of it in his apartment. Everyone knew about it. Manuscripts don’t burn. Even when they do. Bulgakov did not live to see his book published. It would be another 20 years before it was published in Russia.

Rasoulof’s nod to Bulgakov’s persecuted yet un-killable book is pointed and perfect.

Rasoulof has been “in trouble” for years for this kind of thing. The timing is deliberate: The sentence comes just before his new film, The Seed of the Sacred Fig, premieres at the Cannes Film Festival, end of May.

Haven’t these bullies learned their lesson from their Jafar Panahi persecution, who always seemed to be arrested before big festivals, which then put even more of a spotlight on the disgraceful situation, creating international outcries?

Everyone should care about what happens to the artists in Iran. And be able to separate the Iranian people from their regime. The Iranian people themselves have been trying – desperately – and literally dying – in the attempt to get rid of that regime.

Manuscripts don’t burn. Even if you burn them yourself. The regime wins battles but will never ever win the war. You can kill all the writers you want – although I wish you wouldn’t. You can also kill the ability of people to practice freedom of speech. But you cannot kill freedom of thought. And this drives them CRAZY.

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6 Responses to News about Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof

  1. mutecypher says:

    Stupid and evil.

    My heart goes out to the Iranian people, to Salehi, and to Rasoulof that they have such a government.

    • sheila says:

      It’s got to end. But … how? I mean, I can’t help but think that this is how it ends. a long protracted thing. a regime like that isn’t going to go quietly. going after these internationally known artists is so their thing – and it never ever turns out well for them. Them, meaning the regime. but they KEEP doing it. smh

      same with Toomaj – he’s got millions of followers. rap is huge in Iran. he’s important and beloved. of course he’s a symbol – so going after the symbol makes sense but again … it’s the internet age now. You can’t kill a symbol of freedom. you can kill the person but what he symbolizes will remain – and get even more powerful.

      so upsetting.

    • sheila says:

      wow. he fled in secret. !!! This is bad. I mean, I’m glad he’s out of Iran and not going to prison but that’s really bad – I fear for him and all of his collaborators! This is yet another PR disaster for the regime. Brave brave man.

  2. Lyrie says:

    So glad he got out. I follow a few Iranian accounts and had heard of Toomaj Salehi but not Rasoulof. You have to really actively seek out the news to find out what’s happening. It’s all so horrible. Those artists are so brave. We know that violent regimes are at their worst when they’re about to crumble… I really hope that’s what’s happening.

    • sheila says:

      Toomaj. :(

      They’ve been after Rasoulof for years. I can’t wait for his next film! You watch Manuscripts Don’t Burn and … this is horrible but it makes you go, “… and then they let him live after making this?” That’s how bad it is there. It’s a fantastic film – he’s an amazing filmmaker.

      // We know that violent regimes are at their worst when they’re about to crumble //

      Ever since 2009, the regime has struggled and failed to maintain its sense of legitimacy. Like, people aren’t afraid anymore. and social media has completely changed everything. and they “turned it off”. But it doesn’t matter. There’s no way to keep this under wraps anymore. When they arrested Taraneh Alidoosti in late 2022 – it actually shocked me, even after all the persecution of Panahi, another huge star. When you don’t care about international outcry then that’s really scary. They “let her go” but … what will happen now for her? Manuscripts Don’t Burn is about how torture works and how effective it is, even just the THOUGHT of facing torture can make people start self-censorship.

      I’m fearful for Rasoulof. When people are like “if it’s that bad at home, just move somewhere else” – as though 1. that’s an easy thing. Leaving your home, your family … and in this case, Rasoulof will not be allowed to return. It won’t be safe. and 2. it’s BULL SHIT that a bully can run you out of your home. Some people want to stay and fight. They love their country. They don’t WANT to leave because they care about what is happening in their home. Taraneh’s final Instagram post read “I do not have a passport or residence anywhere except Iran. I’ll stay and look you straight in the eyes like all these normal people when I scream for my rights. I’ve inherited this courage from the women of my land, who for years have been living their lives, every day with resistance. I will stay, I will not quit, I will stand with the families of the prisoners and murdered and demand their rights.”

      This makes sense to me. But so does fleeing.

      And so now – every single person who worked on Rasoulof’s film about to premiere next week at Cannes – is at risk. It’s really scary.

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