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Iranian filmmaker Rasoulof says he's fled country after prison sentence

The crew for Mohammad Rasoulof’s latest film, “The Seed of the Sacred Fig,” was barred from traveling to Cannes for the premiere, their lawyer said.
Clemens Bilan/EPA-EFE/Pool/Getty Images

A prominent Iranian filmmaker said on Monday that he has left the country in defiance of a legal case against him and ahead of the screening of his latest movie at the Cannes Film Festival.

Mohammad Rasoulof posted a video of mountains on Instagram, saying he is in an unspecified area outside of Iran.

“From today, I reside in cultural Iran, a boundless land built by millions of Iranians with an ancient history and culture in every corner of the world,” said Rasoulof in the post. “And they eagerly await to bury you and your regime of darkness in the depths of history.”

In a statement to media on Monday, Rasoulof said he reached Europe a few days ago “after a long and complicated journey.”

Iranian authorities did not immediately comment.

Why it matters: Rasoulof is the writer and director of the upcoming film "The Seed of the Sacred Fig,” which is set to debut at Cannes. The prestigious French film festival will begin on Tuesday. The movie addresses the current political tensions in Iran.

“Investigating judge Iman grapples with paranoia amid political unrest in Tehran. When his gun vanishes, he suspects his wife and daughters, imposing draconian measures that strain family ties as societal rules crumble,” reads the film's description on IMDb.

The director’s departure from Iran follows legal trouble facing himself and his crew. Last month, the lawyer representing the movie’s crew said that some of his clients had been barred from leaving the country and pressured to push Rasoulof to stop the film from being screened at Cannes.

The lawyer, Babas Paknia, said in a post on X at the time that it is unclear whether Rasoulof could attend Cannes, citing a case against him.

Paknia told The Associated Press last week that the director had been sentenced to eight years in prison in relation to his movies.

“The Seed of the Sacred Fig” is set to be screened and compete at Cannes as scheduled.

Rasoulof is an acclaimed director and has not shied away from provocative messages in the past. His film "There Is No Evil," which espouses an anti-capital punishment message, won the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival in 2020.

In 2022, Rasoulof was arrested after criticizing a government crackdown against protesters in the southwestern city of Abadan, but was released in February of last year, according to reports at the time.

Cannes has not commented on Rasoulof’s most recent legal troubles, but has supported the director in the past. In 2022, the festival demanded Rasoulof’s release following his arrest.

Know more: Artists are regularly persecuted for speaking out against the government in Iran. Last month, Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, a vocal supporter of the Mahsa Amini protests that began in 2022, was sentenced to death for the vague crime of “corruption on earth.”

In March, Iranian singer Shervin Hajipour was sentenced to three years in prison for his Grammy-winning song “Baraye.” The song is considered an anthem of the protests.