Iranian Filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi on Ahmadinejad's Repressive Regime, the Disputed Election, and the Youth of Tehran

"No one can stop these young people anymore. It is not in the hands of the government. It's not about Mousavi or Khatami or Ahmadinejad. People are taking this into their own hands."

Nobody-Knows-About-Persian-Cats.jpg
A still from Bahman Ghobadi's Nobody Knows About the Persian Cats

It's been quite a year for Iranian filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi. His fiance, journalist Roxana Saberi, was arrested by Iranian authorities and charged with espionage in February. After months in jail, she was released just as Ghobadi premiered his latest film (which Saberi co-wrote), Nobody Knows About the Persian Cats, in Cannes. Ghobadi, now living in Berlin, traveled to Iran recently to visit his mother--and tells us that he was thrown in jail there for seven days. He's now back in Berlin and safe, but his homeland is erupting. We spoke via a translator (his close friend and fellow Iranian filmmaker Daryush Shokof) about the current situation.

Have you reached family and friends in Tehran, and are they OK?

I've been talking to associates and friends. There is an outcry of insecurity and fear amongst all of them. I called one of my best friends--one of the most informed, up-to-date friends in Tehran--three of four days ago. He called back and cried constantly on the phone, which was a huge surprise. This man was supposed to be one of the strongest-minded people around. This brought me much despair, to hear such a strong-minded friend break down on the phone. Crying out of helplessness, fear, disappointment. Crying like a baby.

Is it difficult not to be in Iran now?

It is a nightmare. It is a nightmare not to be amongst them. The sadness of the situation is that I do not know what I can do. [Shokof and I] walk 10 miles a day together, we just don't know what to do. Writing emails, we are in Internet cafes, trying to call people, trying to write them, it is extremely difficult.

And you were just there.

I was captured going from Iraq to Iran on June 2nd and taken to prison for seven days. I left Berlin to go see my mother -- I had a feeling something terrible was going to happen and I wanted to see my mother, thinking I might not see her again. I was captured in my own small town right over the Iran-Iraq border. They kept me for three days in prison there and then took me to a prison in Tehran for four days. I just returned to Berlin.

How were you treated in jail?

It is so unimportant what I went through in comparison to what the crowds of Iranians are going through at this time, it is so small, that I don't want to mention it at this time. One day I'll explain, but I am OK. Psychologically, my mind is extremely frustrated and troubled, but I am OK.

Your latest film, which you shot underground, is about Tehran's rock scene and cultural repression. Have you heard from any of the young performers?

One of the rappers in the film had just arrived from Dubai to Tehran a few days ago and [officials] confiscated his passport in Tehran. The two leads are in London at this time, and their visas for staying England just expired. They want to deport them back to Iran and it is extremely worrisome what will happen to them if they go back there.

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