Saeed Roustayi and Javad Noruzbegi, the director-producer duo behind family drama Leila’s Brothers, will see jail time in Iran after premiering the film at last year’s Cannes Film Festival without government approval, according to local media reports.
The duo were on Tuesday found guilty by Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Court of “contributing to propaganda of the opposition against the Islamic system.” They were sentenced to six months in prison, though they will only serve “about nine days,” with the rest of the sentence to be “suspended over five years,” according to Iran’s Etemad. The verdict can reportedly be appealed, though as things currently stand, the pair will be mandated during the suspension period to refrain from filmmaking-related activities and all contact with industry associates. For the sake of “preserving national and ethical interests,” per Etemad, they will also be required to take a filmmaking course at the Qom Sound and Vision Academy.
Roustayi’s film Leila’s Brothers was in competition for Cannes’ prestigious Palme d’Or, ultimately taking away the FIPRESCI prize instead. He incurred the wrath of the Iranian government not only by entering the film at the festival without a government go-ahead, but also while accepting his award, when he gave a speech surrounding a deadly tower collapse in the city of Abadan. Pic was officially banned from release in Iran as of last June.
The filmmaker’s arrest prompted a statement this morning from the Biarritz Film Festival, which earlier this summer had Roustayi as part of its jury. “We, at Nouvelles Vagues, the Biarritz International Film Festival, have been in shock as we found out about director Saeed Roustayi being sentenced to six months in prison – and forbidden to make another film for five years – for spreading anti-regime propaganda. His only crime is being a free-spirited filmmaker,” said a spokesperson.
Continued the rep, “The Nouvelles Vagues Festival is uncompromisingly committed to young people, defending freedom of speech and artistic freedom, and to artists and people who are threatened because they use that freedom – and calls for the quashing of Saeed Roustayi’s conviction as soon as possible.”
Roustayi and Noruzbegi are just two Iranian filmmakers to have had run-ins with the country’s authoritarian regime in recent years. Among the most prominent recent examples is Cannes prize winner Jafar Panahi, who was arrested after approaching the prosecutor’s office to unique about the detention of filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Aleahmad. Panahi was initially sentenced to six years in jail, though he was released within two days after launching a headline-grabbing hunger strike in February of this year.