Venice Festival Takes Political Stand, Featuring 4 Iranian Films in Official Selection

The Venice Film Festival has picked four Iranian films for its official 2022 lineup, sending a clear political message to Tehran, which has received international condemnation for a recent crackdown on local filmmakers.

Just days after critically-acclaimed Iranian dissident director Jafar Panahi was arrested and ordered to serve a six-year prison sentence, Venice unveiled on Tuesday that it would screen his latest feature, No Bears, in competition this year. The film, like all of Panahi’s recent work, was shot in secret as the director is banned from working in his home country.

Also premiering in the Venice competition this year is Beyond the Wall from Iranian director Vahid Jalilvand. A Lido favorite, Jalilvand’s feature No Date, No Signature won best director and best actor honors, the latter for star Navid Mohammadzadeh, in Venice’s Horizons section in 2017. His latest movie is a metaphorical tale of a blind man whose life starts to fall apart when a wandering woman enters his world.

Another strongly allegorical tale is Arian Vazirdaftari’s Without Her. The drama, which will premiere in Venice’s Horizons Extra sidebar, follows Roya, a woman set to emigrate from Iran, who meets a young woman who appears to have lost her memory.  Roya begins to provide her with a home, introducing her to friends and family, unaware that the woman has come to replace her.

Completing Venice’s Iranian quartet is World War III from director Houman Seyedi, which will premiere in Horizons in Venice. Details of the feature are being kept under wraps.

By giving such a prominent place to Iranian directors, Venice is certain to spark debate and discussion over Tehran’s censorship and oppression of its filmmaking community. In addition to Panahi, two other prominent filmmakers — Mostafa Aleahmad (Poosteh) and Mohammad Rasoulof (There Is No Evil) — were arrested earlier this month for social media posts about the collapse of a building, which killed more than 40 people. They are currently being detained.

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Panahi is the most prominent dissident director in Iran. He was arrested in 2010 for supporting anti-government protests and sentenced to six years in prison, as well as being banned from making movies and from traveling outside Iran for 20 years. He served two months before being released on conditional bail. Panahi won the Golden Bear at Berlin with Taxi in 2015 and the best screenplay honors in Cannes with Three Faces in 2018, two films shot in secret while he was under the official state ban.