Iran: Film about Iranian music censorship awarded, musicians exiled

27 May 2009
The Iranian film ‘No One Knows About Persian Cats’ was awarded in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section of the Cannes Film Festival. But two of the musicians which it features now must go in exile.

‘Nobody Knows About the Persian Cats’ was created by the 40-year-old Kurdish film director Bahman Ghobadi, who has also produced the film ‘Half Moon’ about a Kurdish musician.

He told the news agency AFP that the Iran’s tight censorship and restrictions mean he “may not go back.” “Everything is dark,” he told AFP in an interview at the film festival. The two-hour movie shows Tehran’s underground music scene and tells the stories for two young musicians, Negar Shaghaghi and Ashkan Koshanejad, who try to form a band in order to play in a festival in Europe. All musical performances and productions in Iran need permission from the Ministry of Culture, and many music genres are banned.

Musicians in exile
Negar Shaghaghi and Ashkan Koshanejad also told AFP here they would not return home. “We just want to live peacefully and make our music,” said Koshanejad, who was arrested 18 months ago and spent three weeks in jail. “Everyone is going to leave some day.”

“No One Knows About Persian Cats” repeatedly raises the question of whether to stay at home or choose exile and artistic freedom.

AFP wrote: “It is a no-holds-barred denunciation of film and music censorship in Iran shot in secret in just 17 days with a mostly non-professional cast working on a shoestring budget. (…) Shot in dingy cellars, rooftop sheds and even in a country cow-barn, it unveils the existence of a vibrant Tehran underground music scene ranging from indie rock to Persian rap to heavy metal — with rare images of daily urban life in the backdrop.”

Co-scriptwriter imprisoned
The manuscript for the film was co-scripted by the Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi. She was released from a Tehran prison on 11 May after spending 100 days in detention. After being arrested in Tehran on 31 January she was first given an eight-year prison sentence on a charge of spying for the United States which was later reduced to a two-year suspended sentence on appeal.

“By singling out this film, the jury has deliberately sent a clear message to the Iranian authorities, who have banned it from being screened,” Reporters Without Borders said in a press statement. “The award also sends a message of support for free expression to Iran’s independent musicians. There should be no restrictions on the screening of ‘No One Knows About Persian Cats’ in Iran.”





Reporters Without Borders – 23 May 2009:

‘Cannes Festival jury sends message to Iranian authorities by awarding prize to film co-scripted by Roxana Saberi’

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