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I was there

August 1997
The Iranian

Film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf's letter to the press on the sale of Iranian films to Israel. Recently Iran condemned the screening of Makhmalbaf's films in a Jerusalem film festival and the issue received considerable press coverage. The following letter was sent to the Iranian media. Click here for original Persian text.

The news in "Iran" newspaper dated July 29, 1997, under the headline "Engineer Mirsalim's Denial", said: "The Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister denied that he had agreed to the sale of Iranian films to Israel."

I repeat what I have said earlier that in July of 1994 "Mr. Mirsalim", minister of culture and Islamic guidance, sitting in his ministerial office in the presence of eight filmmakers and officials, gave permission to the sale of Iranian films to Israel. And here are the names of those present at the meeting:

Film officials at the time: Mr. Mehdi Faridzadeh (deputy culture and Islamic guidance minister for film affairs), Mr. Hossein Haqiqi (director of the Farabi Film Foundation), Mr. Alireza Shoja-nouri and Mr. Mohammad Atebaee (officials in charge of Farabi's international division), and filmmakers: Mr. Kianoush Ayari, Mr. Abbas Kiarostami, Mr. Ebrahim Forouzesh and I.

Before I notified the press about Mr. Mirsalim's order to sell Iranian films to Israel, I told his officials to warn him that if he continues his untrue anti-Zionist proclamations, I will tell the truth to the public. Their response was that, in that case, Mr. Mirsalim will issue a denial in order to avoid any damage to his reputation.

I said I don't care about the need for the culture and arts minister to be familiar with culture and art because obviously it is possible to appoint Mr. Mirsalim, an engine specialist, to the post of culture and arts minister without any consequences. However, I said I doubt that he will not only forgo "modesty and truthfulness", which every minister should have, but also deny a reality which has eight living witnesses.

I said if he doesn't feel any shame toward his conscience and Day Judgment Day, which he believes in, then how could he have the nerve to ever face those witnesses after telling such a lie?

Mr. Mirsalim,

In this passing world, is a government position really worth that much? Is it worth being in charge of a post you don't deserve and to hang on to it by telling lies and impose unnecessary censorship?

Does your excellency remember the [Tehran Fajr Film] Festival in February of 1996 when one of your assistants, Mr. Eslami, came to my house to tell me that [my film] "Gabbeh" had won the Best Film of the Year award and you were waiting at the ceremonial hall to present the prize?

I responded that I will not accept prizes from politicians because in most cases they have abused artists and it is better for artists to avoid politicians. And I said, "Iranian art has been court-sanctioned throughout history. When will it be time for Iranian art to distance itself from the court?"

I did not show up at the awards ceremony and you were forced to suddenly stop the live television broadcast and hand the award to someone else so that the prize you were going to bribe me with would not stay up in the air and you would preserve your so-called reputation.

Since then, you have shown your anger by imposing a ban on "Gabbeh" for the longest time and your friends have repeatedly told me that "Noun-o-Goldoun" ("Time of Innocence") has been banned because I did not accept my prize from you.

Mr. Mirsalim,

In this passing world, is a government position ireally worth that much?

Mohsen Makhmalbaf

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