Human, artistic principal in the face of oppression


Rome July 31, 2003

After weeks of negotiations with the Authorities in Iran, Babak Payami decided not to cave in to intimidations and to reconstruct his film from computer files. Silence…had been invited to the Upstream competition program of Venice 2003 and it was agreed that the video copy will be screen in the official program.

On July 31, 2003 Payami held a press conference at the international press association conference hall in Rome and released the statement below.

Thank you for your time this afternoon.

Unfortunately, I am not here to celebrate the selection of my new film in the Venice Film festival this year.   The repression and intimidation of the media and arts community in Iran is not new to any of us and most regrettably, the case of Ms. Zahra Kazemi, the Iranian/Canadian photojournalist is not an isolated incident.

As you might have been aware, a few weeks ago, while I was putting the final touches on my new film, I was arrested by plain clothed officials on the Tehran streets and eventually, the material for my film was confiscated from my offices with no formal and legal justification.   During the several hours of informal interrogation, various threats and accusations were being made against me.   I naturally turned to the Iranian filmmakers’ union and the ministry of culture for support.   However, as we speak today, several weeks after this incident, my material is being held and I am yet to receive any formal clarification of the case.

Since then, government officials have subjected other Iranian filmmakers to harassment by way of informal interrogations and persecution.   The independent film community in Iran faces one of the darkest times in recent history.   Through such actions, not only the work of existing and established filmmakers is jeopardized, but also the coming to fruition of new talent is facing a violent abortion.

It is most unfortunate that independent minded artists are being dragged into politics as an excuse for their persecution and repression.   However, this is not limited to the arts community.   Anybody who demands their most basic human rights and their freedom of expression are being politicized as a means to classify them as the “enemy” and to persecute and ultimately, eliminate their hunger for freedom and their desire for an “apolitical” life.   The enemy, isn’t this a familiar word in recent months?   I am disheartened by the fact that even on what seems to be the other end of the international spectrum, this most undemocratic of mentalities, that of “you’re either with us or against us” is being legitimized and somehow tolerated by the general population.   Especially in recent years, it is ever more clear that we do not have a political model for freedom and respect for human rights.   This, in principal, is the primary reason for our refraining from politics.   This is also why we, as independent artists, irrespective of our nationality, are pleading to the people of the world through our work, to abandon politics and politicians, especially those who only exist based on the notion of the enemy, to turn to a humanistic way of life.

As a result, the participation of my film, even if I can manage to salvage two frames of my film in time for the scheduled screening at Venice, is for me and for the independent film community around the world, a matter of human and artistic principal.   It is a plea to all who hold humanity ahead of ideology, race, nationality and any other artificially imposed abhor-ration upon human civilization, to react to such oppression wherever it happens in defense of our most basic rights as human beings.   The right to think and to express ourselves freely while we respect the rights of others to do the same.

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