(NEW YORK) – Thirty of the global art house film community’s leading organizations, film festivals, and filmmakers have signed an open letter calling on Iranian authorities to immediately drop all charges against film directors Maryam Moghadam and Behtash Sanaeeha and lift their current travel ban.

Sanaeeha and Moghadam were at Tehran airport en route to Paris in September for post-production on their new film, My Favourite Cake, when their passports were confiscated. The filmmakers are now set to be tried by a judge linked to Iran’s notorious Evin prison.

My Favourite Cake reportedly explores the “life behind closed doors of an aging woman who dares to live her desires in a country where women’s rights are heavily restricted.” Reports indicate that Iranian authorities have seized all material associated with the film.

Sanaeeha and Moghadam gained international recognition for their 2020 film, Ballad of a White Cow, which won several prizes, including an Audience Award at the Berlinale, Best Film at the 2022 Der Neue Heimatfilm Festival, and a Special Mention at the Zurich Film Festival. Despite these honors, the filmmakers were charged in Iran with “propaganda against the regime and acting against national security,” and although eventually acquitted, their impactful film remains prohibited within the country.

The open letter reads in part: 

“Because their work necessitates engagement in the public sphere, artists in repressive societies often face a heightened risk of arrest. 

The people of Iran, along with citizens around the world, should have the opportunity to create and watch works, such as Sanaeeha and Moghadam’s films as well as those of Saeed Roustayi, read Narges Mohammadi’s reporting, listen to the music of Saman Yasin, and savor the performances of gifted Iranian actors, even if they don’t agree to wear headscarves.”

Filmmakers, writers, and other artists play an essential role in establishing free and vibrant societies, serving as architects of communication and collaboration and inspiring citizens to dream of better futures based on new possibilities and ideas. Instead of stifling their voices, governments must elevate and celebrate artists for their invaluable contributions to society.

Art and artists must be protected! Culture should never be considered a luxury; rather, it is a vital ingredient for a healthy, productive, and sustainable society.”

Narges Mohammadi received the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia earlier this month. She is currently being subjected to a new trial related to recent activities within the prison, including disseminating her statements and writings to the public. Authorities have requested that she be transferred to a remote prison in an attempt to further isolate her and restrict her words from reaching the outside world.

Iran ranked second on the PEN America 2022 Freedom to Write Index list of the top 10 jailers of writers globally. Additionally, it topped the list of the world’s leading jailers of female writers.

About the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC)

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. Since its inception in 2017, ARC’s mission has been to safeguard the fundamental right to artistic freedom of expression worldwide to ensure that artists and cultural workers can live and create without fear, regardless of their country or discipline. ARC recently released A Safety Guide For Artistsa resource that offers practical strategies to help artists understand, navigate, and overcome risk. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC.

Contact: Dietlind Lerner, [email protected] tel. +1 310 699 8775