Lebanon film fest instructed to pull pics

ROME — Lebanon became the latest stage for Iran’s increasing crackdown on suspected dissident filmmakers when several Iranian pics were suddenly pulled from the Beirut Film Festival. The Lebanese government is led by Shiite group Hezbollah, a key ally of Iran, and yanking the films prompted local media to accuse Iran of putting political pressure on the fest.

It’s a contention fest head Colette Naufal seemed to corroborate.

“The Lebanese (censors) told us (Oct. 7) we would have to remove Iranian director Nader Davoodi’s film (“Red, White and Green”) from our program, and then we were informed that he would not be able to travel,” she announced during the fest, which ran Oct. 5-13.

Davoodi’s film is a documentary about violence in the lead-up to Iran’s disputed 2009 election. The other films pulled were Iranian-Kurdish helmer Ibrahim Al-Saaidi’s “Mandoo,” reportedly due to a travel ban, and Sahand Samadian’s “I Love Tehran,” about contempo Iranian youth. This last pic allegedly was pulled by producers fearing reprisals if it was shown, sources say.

“When you attack freedom in Beirut, you attack Beirut itself,” blasted website NOW Lebanon. “We are prevented from having access to certain films, books and music, and from carrying out demonstrations and expressing ourselves freely.”

Last week also saw alarming reports that Iranian actress Marzieh Vafamehr had been sentenced to one year in jail and 90 lashes for appearing in Iranian-Australian director Granaz Moussavi’s “My Tehran for Sale,” in which she plays a woman seeking artistic and sexual freedom.

“I hope the person who meted out that sentence will realize how exaggerated it is,” said Iranian helmer Asghar Farhadi at the Oct. 13 Rome press conference supporting the Italian release of “Nader and Simin, a Separation,” about the marriage meltdown of a middle-age couple in Tehran. “Separation” is Iran’s surprise submission in the foreign-lingo film Oscar race.

Iran’s latest crackdown comes after helmer Mojtaba Mirtahmasb had his passport pulled in September en route to Toronto with “This Is Not a Film,” which he co-helmed with Jafar Panahi, who has been banned from directing and producing for 20 years.

Iran has released Naser Safarian and Mohsen Shahrnazdar, two of six Iranian filmmakers arrested last month on accusations of working for the BBC Farsi-language service, Iran’s Fars news agency said last week, citing a statement by the Iranian Documentary Filmmakers Assn.

The fate of filmmakers Hadi Afarideh, Shahnam Bazdar, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and Katayoun Shahabi was not reported.

Meanwhile, in a possible sign of fundamentalist wrath spreading across the region, Islamic protesters in Tunisia tried to set fire to satcaster Nessma TV after it screened Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi’s Iran-set “Persepolis,” which contains a scene considered blasphemous by some ultra-conservative Muslims.

“The deplorable actions of the small fringe of protesters speaks volumes about the dangers inherent in allowing any party not committed to dialogue, open society and freedom to gain power in the country,” says Nessma co-owner Tarak Ben Ammar.

The Tunisian protests came two weeks before elections for a constitutional assembly, which will be the first vote since longtime President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown in January. Since then conservative Muslims have become increasingly vocal in the country.

– Diana Lodderhose in London contributed to this report.

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