Iran helmers caught in the political chaos

LONDON — Filmmakers are finding themselves caught in the middle of the protests over the disputed Iranian presidential elections just as the scale of those demonstrations reaches levels not seen since the country’s 1979 revolution.

Iranian helmers Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Marjane Satrapi visited the European Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday to label incumbent Iranian prexy Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory in the June 12 poll a “coup d’etat.”

Makhmalbaf claimed to have a document proving that leading opposition candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi — who officially received only 33% of the vote compared with Ahmadinejad’s 62% — actually won the election outright.

“It breaks my heart to see people of my country being killed, injured and arrested,” Satrapi told Daily Variety. “As a filmmaker, an Iranian and a human being, it is our duty to speak out even if it won’t change anything.”

The helmer said that after making “Persepolis,” about her childhood in Iran during the 1979 revolution, “I told myself I was through with mixing politics in my films, but this is now a question of humanity.”

Makhmalbaf and Satrapi aren’t the only helmers caught up in the crisis.

U.S. filmmaker James Longley (“Iraq in Fragments”) was arrested briefly this week while shooting scenes on his current project chronicling the Iranian elections. In an email published on a blog, Longley described his experience at the hands of security forces who beat his translator.

“It made me really question what I am doing in this country. It has become impossible to work as a journalist without the risk of physical violence from the government,” wrote Longley.

One Iranian filmmaker, who insisted on anonymity, said that German co-producers had insisted the director leave the country and complete post-production in Berlin.

“I was still in Tehran 48 hours ago, but my co-producers got worried about me being able to get the film out of the country, so I left,” the helmer said. “You never know what’s going to happen. There is a lot of pressure on many Iranian filmmakers now because a lot of them supported Mousavi, and they’re scared Ahmadinejad will crush them if he wins.”

Support for Mousavi has been high in Iranian film circles, with respected director Dariush Mehrjui filming the candidate’s campaign video.

Makhmalbaf’s 20-year-old daughter Hana is ahead of her older peers — she is already nearing completion on a film about the elections.

Even though the Iranian government has increased its draconian measures on foreign media reporting, with many journos now limited to filing a single story a day out of their hotel rooms, news and images of the widespread demonstrations keep on filtering out of the country thanks to Iran’s mobile-phone equipped Twitter brigades.

Thursday reportedly saw the streets of Tehran filled with thousands of protesters dressed in black, marching in mourning for activists killed and injured by security forces in recent days.

Everyone is now waiting for the sermon from Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during today’s prayers. The speech, which will be carried by Iran’s state-owned media, could play a decisive role in the outcome of the drive for new elections in the country.

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