Satrapi blasts Iran’s ‘Persepolis’ protest

Author says dispute has blown up out of proportion

Forget the battle of Thermopylae. Iranian film execs are staging their own battle of “Persepolis.” Farabi Cinema Foundation, the country’s government-affiliated film org, sent a letter of protest to the French cultural attache in Tehran about the film’s selection in Cannes ahead of its official screening in competish.

Animated pic is based on Marjane Satrapi’s best-selling graphic novels about a young girl growing up in Tehran around the time of the Iranian revolution. In the letter Farabi managing director Alireza Rezadad accused “Persepolis” of presenting “an unreal picture of the outcomes and achievements of the Islamic revolution.”

Satrapi, who co-helmed pic along with Vincent Paronnaud, faced down some heated questioning at the Wednesday press confab over the affair from irate Iranian journalists, one of whom quizzed her openly about why she was refusing to speak to the Iranian press.

“That is not the problem. I simply didn’t want to nourish this dispute,” responded Satrapi. “It has blown up out of proportion and I don’t want to add fuel to the fire. I accept criticism. I believe in freedom of expression and speech.”

Satrapi was backed up by exec producer Kathleen Kennedy, who has helped secure U.S. distribution for pic through Sony Pictures Classics.

“That a country like Iran is defined by extremism in the U.S. is unfair,” Kennedy said. “Marjane has opened up a channel of communication.”

The brouhaha over “Persepolis” has been exacerbated by the total lack of Iranian pics in official selection for the second year running. While Satrapi’s tale is based in Iran, the dialogue is almost entirely in French and pic is technically listed as a French production thanks to coin from Gaul-based 2.4.7 Films. Dreamachine is handling international sales.

The furor over WB’s “300” earlier this year — when an online petition protesting the depiction of Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae as deformed monsters garnered tens of thousands of signatures worldwide — has also left some in the Iranian film biz feeling touchy.

“The letter was actually about the lack of Iranian films in Cannes,” said Amir Esfandiari, Farabi’s head of international affairs. “If they’re going to select a film against Iran, we can protest why the festival committee didn’t select a film from Iran itself.”

Opinion was divided among some other Iranian execs, though.

“I believe ‘Persepolis’ is a good movie and if I was a member of the selection committee I would have chosen it as well,” said one leading Iranian producer who insisted on anonymity. “As for the Iranian films, the quality of films has not been that high this year. However, we cannot deny that every film festival, whether its Cannes or Tehran’s Fajr, has its own policies and these can be influenced by politics.”

Away from the politics, Satrapi disclosed an English-language version of “Persepolis” is being prepped ahead of its U.S. release. Catherine Deneuve will return to voice the mother, with Gena Rowlands and Satrapi herself providing the voice of the grandmother and little girl, respectively.