Escaped Iran director Rasoulof arrives at Cannes Film Festival

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Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof arrived at the Cannes Film Festival Thursday after his dramatic escape from his homeland after being sentenced to eight years in prison.

“I can’t believe I’m standing here,” AFP journalists heard him telling officials in the Palais des Festivals, where the world’s biggest film festival is being held.

He declined questions from reporters ahead of the premiere of his new film, “The Seed of the Sacred Fig,” which is competing for the Palme d’Or, the festival’s top prize, on Friday.

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It tells the story of a judge’s struggles amid political unrest in Tehran. Rasoulof had come under pressure to withdraw it from Cannes before the festival opened.

The award-winning filmmaker -- an outspoken critic of the Iranian regime -- was sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of “collusion against national security” earlier this month. He had already served two prison terms over his films and criticism of the government, and had his passport revoked in 2017.

But on the eve of the festival last week, Rasoulof revealed that he had escaped Iran, telling The Guardian that he made an “exhausting and extremely dangerous” journey on foot.

“We are particularly touched to welcome (Rasoulof) here as a filmmaker. Our joy will be that of all festival-goers and all freedom-loving Iranians,” Fremaux told AFP earlier this week.

“We would like to reaffirm the support of the Cannes Film Festival for all artists around the world who suffer violence and reprisals in the expression of their art.”

Rasoulof told AFP last week that he feared for the “safety and well-being” of fellow filmmakers in Iran.

“The global film community must provide strong support to the makers of these films,” he said in a statement.

Rasoulof won the Berlin Film Festival’s top prize, the Golden Bear, in 2020 for “There Is No Evil” and won the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes with “A Man of Integrity” in 2017.

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