November 25, 2009 / 6:08 PM / in 9 years

Iranian director, opposition campaigner wins award

LONDON (Reuters) - Iranian film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf won the Freedom to Create Prize on Wednesday, and dedicated his award to leading cleric Hossein Ali Montazeri and the popular opposition movement he supports.

Iranian film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf (R) speaks with students, who are supporters of Iranian opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi, as they take part in a rally in downtown Rome, in support of the demonstrations in Tehran June 23, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Makhmalbaf, 52, is a respected film maker who won international acclaim with his 2001 Afghan picture “Kandahar.”

He is also one of Iranian opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi’s most well-known and vocal supporters overseas, having left Iran around five years ago.

“I’ve been in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and India making films about Iran but from the outside,” he told Reuters in London before receiving the annual award that honors artists working in difficult or dangerous environments.

“All my scripts were banned, so I moved from Iran to make more films. If I went to Iran I would go directly to prison. This not only goes for me, but also my family.”

Makhmalbaf, whose daughters Samira and Hana are also film makers, said he would use the prize, which comes with a $50,000 purse, to highlight what he called injustice in Iran.

“People of my country are killed, imprisoned, tortured and raped just for their votes. We as artists are using these awards to shed light on the darkness.”

He described Montazeri as a key “spiritual leader” of the Green Movement, named after the green colors worn by Mousavi’s sympathizers who took to the streets to protest against the outcome of the presidential election in June.

Mousavi lost to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the disputed poll, and the Iranian opposition says more than 70 people were killed in post-election violence.

Officials say the death toll was half that and that members of the security forces were among the victims.


Thousands of people were arrested and, while most detainees have been released, more than 100 people have been put on trial. Several of the accused have been jailed and three have been sentenced to death, according to Iranian media.

Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, who is in his late 80s and spent five years under house arrest, dismissed the election as fraudulent and is one of the government’s harshest critics.

“I dedicate this award to his fight against fascism in Iran,” Makhmalbaf said.

The director added that culture and politics had become closely entwined in Iran since the events in June.

“We believe that culture has a greater role (in society) than politics. The Iranian people use culture to enjoy a better life, but nowadays we have to think about politics.

“I do not like politics. I prefer to be in the world of art and make poetic films rather than political ones, but how can I forget politics when it is there in front of my eyes — people being killed and raped?”

The second place prize, and $15,000, went to the “Kumjing Storytellers,” women from Myanmar’s largest minority the Shan people who use dolls to tell the story of how they were forced to flee their homes by the military regime.

In third place, with a prize of $10,000, was female Afghan artist Sheenkai Alam Stanikzai, whose work highlights the oppression of women in Afghanistan and neighboring countries.

The prize money in all three cases is equally divided between the winner and an organization nominated by them.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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