We’ve all seen the historic images reaching us from Iran in recent months. They’re longed for images of the women and men of Iran’s love of life and desire for freedom. And dreaded images of the regime’s brutal response. These images and reports are saddening, yet at the same time they are full of hope. Hope of an end to unfreedom and harassment, hope of an end to the disenfranchisement of all citizens – but above all of women – by Iran’s rulers and medieval ideologists who have been in control of the country for more than 40 years. Something has been set in motion.
For creative minds, for film-makers in Iran that means that their situation will become even more difficult than it already is. After taking power in 1979, the new rulers literally shut down the country’s entire cultural sector. Many artists and cultural professionals were forced into exile or robbed of their livelihoods. The rulers launched the Cultural Revolution, the goal of which was to reinvent and redefine culture. The condition the new regime imposed on those wishing to resume their cultural activities was the Islamisation of culture by their own definition. For more than 40 years now the regime has been trying to establish a „state culture“ in all areas of life backed by generous state funding. It wants to buy off and force through art in line with its own ideological beliefs.
As a result, creative professionals are forced to work under the most difficult of conditions – censorship, intimidation, imprisonment, being banned from their profession. Those who practise their art freely often already have one foot in prison – like the actor Taraneh Alidoosti, or Jafar Panahi and Mohammed Rassulof. There are so many who’ve been role models for several generations and deserve to be mentioned by name.
It’s staggering to see what Iranian film-makers create under these conditions, that despite all the restrictions imposed on them they time and again achieve global success, time and again take home lions, palms and bears, and are time and again able to create truly outstanding art.
The famous Iranian film-maker Rakhshān Bani‘etemād once said that „art that exists only for itself makes no sense in our culture“.
And it’s true, it’s something we’re seeing now more than ever. We can see that art is a catalyst for political debate. If merely filming the actual state of things can put you in prison because it’s too far removed from the regime’s envisioned state of things, then that in effect by definition makes art political.
I admire the courage of all those who continue to make art under such conditions – who write poetry and stories, make moving and stirring music, stage underground plays, take photographs and make films. They deserve the greatest of recognition for their art, for their bravery and for their courage to stand up for their convictions. They deserve all our support. Alongside many others who are currently fighting for their rights in Iran they are engaged in a real cultural revolution, a revolution of culture. A culture in which art can once more be art. Unchained and unchecked. And I hope that all of you who are fighting for your rights know that we stand shoulder to shoulder with you. That we are celebrating your courage here at the Berlin International Film Festival.
The socio-political power of film is especially in evidence here this year. The Berlinale, always a political festival, shows that cinema is a pre-eminent discursive space. Particularly when it comes to international exchange that is more important than ever. And that not only holds true for the films being screened. Today’s event, the World Cinema Fund Day in cooperation with Berlinale Talents, takes a clear stand on the free development of art and its protagonists the world over. It underscores the World Cinema Fund’s important goal of promoting high-quality film-making in regions with a weak film infrastructure. And then to get that cultural diversity screened in German cinemas. I’m so pleased that Berlinale Talents is part of that. The programme not only makes an important contribution when it comes to intercultural communication and understanding. Its active community – that now numbers 10,000 alumni – is a network that can support film-makers even in times that are socially and politically so very challenging.
And so, there are enough synergies to tap into. What’s more, we know that young talents are the future. Six participants from Ukraine and four talents from Iran at this year’s Berlinale Talents – that’s a sign, a wonderful sign, of freedom. It shows that people can be supported and backed even though, at first glance, they appear to be far away and unreachable. And it shows that art and culture can be stronger than crises and wars. Let’s take that encouraging message away today and from the Berlinale – and let’s spread the word.
For dancing in the alleys
For terror when kissing
For my sister, your sister, our sisters
For changing rusted minds
For the shame of poverty
For the regret of living and ordinary life
For the dumpster diving children and their wishes
For this dictatorial economy
For this polluted air
For Valiasr and its worn out trees
For Pirooz and the possibility of his extinction
For the innocent illegal dogs
For the unstoppable tears
For the scene of repeating this moment
For the smiling faces
For students and their future
For this forced heaven
For the imprisoned elite students
For the Afghan kids
For all these „for“s that are beyond repetition
For all of these meaningless slogans
For the collapse of fake buildings
For the feeling of peace
For the sun after these long nights
For anxiety and insomnia pills
For men, fatherland, prosperity
For the girl who wished to be a boy
For women, life, freedom
Thanks to wonderful Shervin!
Thank for your commitment to this cause.