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Mittwoch, 19. Januar 2022

Film about Iranian President sparks Controversy at Berlin Festival

Script of an Deutsche Welle Radio-piece by Igal Avidan, aired on February 15 2009:

TAKE 1: Demo

AUTHOR: On a freezing night, two dozen people demonstrated in
Berlin against the screening of Iranian films at the international film festival, the Berlinale. Germans and exile Iranian protestors held banners criticizing the festival director, Dieter Kosslick. The slogans read: “Ayatollah Kosslick – no dialogue with the Mullah regime” and “A propaganda forum for anti-Semites and Islamists”. The bear figure which symbolizes the festival was modified to wear a head-scarf, like the ones all women in Iran must wear.

The main criticism was directed at the documentary film “Letters to the President” by Canadian director Petr Lom. His film focuses on the millions of letters that ordinary Iranians send to their President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Lom was the only Western film-maker allowed by the Iranian regime to make a film about Ahmadinejad. He was permitted to accompany three presidential journeys to rural provinces, but could not closely observe the President.

TAKE 2: Lom:
“What I really wanted to make was a film, which was in no way critical mainly because I think that would be in the long-term more useful… and I like observational film-making… And I thought… it would really be a contribution to try to show how these people think… But they didn’t allow that, no. Why? It’s a lot of suspicion, the harsh word is paranoia and that was the biggest challenge in trying to make the film to convince people that I’m not a spy, I’m just making a film… I would like to collaborate with you… And if you don’t like the critical scenes in it, I’ll remove them, just give me better material”.

AUTHOR The Iranians liked the fact that Petr Lom is a Harvard graduate and an acclaimed political scientist who turned filmmaker. The authorities also liked the idea of presenting the President as a popular figure and suggested that he call the film “Democracy in Action”. They only asked him not to show the film on the Voice of America or in
Israel. Despite the approval from the presidential office, Lom spent most of the five months in Iran not filming at all, but waiting for permission and being interrogated by security officials.

TAKE 3: Lom:
“We had to show, you know, copies to the authorities, sure… like the vice-president, you know, I showed him 90% of the material. He didn’t like it very much… and basically the accesses tried up in the project pretty much ended at that point…The project pretty much ended at that point… 
Clearly, they were expecting something closer to a propaganda piece, right”.

AUTHOR: Jonathan Weckerle is an activist of the German group “Stop the Bomb” who demonstrated against the presentation of the Iranian film at the
Berlin festival. He is mostly concerned about what you don’t see in the film – the victims of the Iranian regime.

TAKE 4: Weckerle
“You get hardly something to know about torture, about terror, about the persecution of the minorities, of women and all, all these topics, which I think are essential to the regime, and also the anti-Semitism and the… Islamist ideology…

AUTHOR: Christoph Terhechte, director of the Forum section at the Berlin International film festival rejects the criticism. He thinks a good film shouldn’t carry a banner, but allow the audience to think for themselves. Terhechte sees no danger that the film might win support for the Iranian president in
Berlin. He says the protesters demonstrated even before they saw the film and reminds that while the project was approved by Iran, the film itself was not. But why did Christoph Terhechte choose to present “Letters to the President” in Berlin?

TAKE 5: Terchechte
“I think it shows how this mass hysteria is created. It makes us understand why… the poor population is manipulated and how they can be so sure about their identity and this wonderful president… although we all know that this is a very dangerous guy. But we have to understand… how this propaganda works in order to… fight that… And it’s fascinating to see how this propaganda machinery works, although it gives me the shivers”.