September 30, 2021
A veteran Iranian filmmaker has called on the Oscar Academy to create a special award for artists in exile, similar to the Olympic Refugee Team.
In a plaintive letter to Oscars chief Dawn Hudson, the Kurdish-Iranian director, producer and writer Bahman Ghobadi, who was forced to leave Iran in 2009 due to threats from the intelligence agencies, suggested a group be formed catering just for filmmakers who are cut off from their country of birth.
This summer some 29 athletes from 11 different countries, including five from Iran, and living in 13 host countries took part in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics under the banner of the refugee team.
“I as an Iranian cannot live in my own country because of the Islamic regime,” the 52-year-old wrote. “I have to live in exile just because I demanded my rights and freedom of speech. This is the case for many filmmakers around the world.”
He added: “Needless to say, there are a lot of independent filmmakers living in their own countries who have been deprived of their rights and are suffering in silence. These brave filmmakers’ works are not only censored and banned, but also they never get an opportunity to enter the Oscar Academy [Awards].”
Ghobadi said his colleagues Jafar Parnahi, who was jailed and later banned from working in the industry, and Mohammad Rasoulof, who has won international awards but remains subject to a travel ban, “alongside a group of Russian and Chinese filmmakers” were among those working under extreme pressure and censorship.
Those in exile, he said, faced other difficulties such as not knowing what language to make their movies in, and for what audience. “I’m sure there are other filmmakers who have to suffer like me,” he said. “Therefore, it would be great if we could have one representative [at the Oscars] from exiled artists.
“This happened in the Tokyo Olympics, where a team of refugee athletes were also allowed to join the competition. There could be a refugee team of filmmakers. This not only provides a great opportunity for them to have their works watched on an international level, but also raises awareness about their condition.”
Ghobadi was born in the town of Baneh, Kurdistan province, and later moved to Tehran. His 2000 film A Time For Drunken Horses won him the Cannes Caméra d’Or for best first film, and was Iran’s Oscar submission for that year, as was by his 2004 film Turtles Can Fly.