Bahman Ghobadi: “I love my country but it drove me away!”

We met the Iranian filmmaker during the 53rd Thessaloniki International Film Festival, right about the time when his brother Behrouz went missing, to discuss his latest film “Rhino Season”, his self-imposed exile and the censorship the Islamic authorities of Tehran impose on Iranian artists.

We first got to know the Iranian filmmaker when his first feature, “A Time for Drunken Horses”, won the Caméra d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival 12 years ago. We crossed paths again at the Berlinale, where “Turtes Can Fly” won the Glass Bear and Peace Film Award and then again at Cannes with “No one Knows About Persian Cats”, which won him the Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize in 2009. “Rhino Season”, the first film Ghobadi ever made outside Iran (he is currently living and working in Istanbul), is the poetic retelling of Sadegh Kamangar’s life story, a well-known Kurdish poet who was imprisoned because of his work, lost his wife and family only to be released three decades later, after everyone thought he was dead.

Ghobadi also meant the film as a commentary on the very similar story of his leading man, Behrouz Vossoughi, an Iranian superstar who has been living in exile since 1977. “He’s been my hero ever since I was a child” says Ghobadi, “and I had promised him we’d make a film together, a political film about everything that’s happening in Iran. I feel that the story of these two artists fused with mine and resulted in a film about censorship, imprisonment and exile.”

Living in self-imposed exile for the past 3,5 years (he spent a little time in the US, then Berlin, London and now Istanbul), he’s suffering from the deep depression plaguing every artist who has lost the right to live and work in their country of origin. “When they don’t allow you the right to express yourself freely through your work, they turn you against your own country and that’s just very sad. I love my country, I love Iran but I can’t live there anymore…”

Bahman Ghobadi recently suffered another misfortune when his brother Behrouz, a production manager and short film director, went missing and is believed to be held by the Iranian authorities, accused of acting against national security.

Read Ghobadi’s official statement and watch the interview clip below:

“My younger brother, Behrouz Ghobadi, disappeared more than two weeks ago, and I have learned that he has been detained by Iranian authorities and accused of acting against national security. My family and I are certain he is innocent and incapable of such actions. We are extremely concerned about his well-being and ask the Iranian authorities to release him immediately.

“We now know that Behrouz was detained by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry. Over the last two weeks he has been denied his basic rights, including contact with his family and access to a lawyer. We have searched for him at several prisons and asked the Iranian judiciary for information, but no one has told us where he is being held.

“In the early morning of Sunday, November 4, Behrouz left Sanandaj, Iran, in a taxi headed for Tehran to see his mother and catch a flight. We later learned that approximately 15 kilometers outside Sanandaj, plainclothes forces riding in two cars stopped the cab and arrested him.

“Behrouz is a 40-year-old Sunni Muslim Iranian Kurd. He has never been involved in any political or opposition activities. He was interested in film, served as a production manager in some of my movies, and directed a few short films. Last year, he moved from Iran to Kurdistan, Iraq, to run a store that sells shampoo and soap. One month ago, his wife gave birth to their first child, a son, Harmang. Behrouz is his family’s sole provider, and he has also been taking care of our elderly mother.

“We are extremely worried about Behrouz, especially because of his chronic health issues. He has platinum posts in both of his legs from a car accident several years ago in Kurdistan, Iran. He also requires care and medication for his gout, weak heart, and respiratory problems. We ask that the Iranian authorities release him without delay.”