Commenting on the solutions proposed by the HoC, film director Ghazaleh Soltani told state news agency IRNA: "Sometimes strange ideas stew in the minds of those in charge of the HoC." He said the problem could not be resolved using "old guard" solutions. It must be tackled at the root and cannot simply be "wished away".

According to the Imena news agency, Ensieh Khazali, the Iranian president's deputy in charge of women's issues, called for "protecting the dignity of women artists". The "precious presence of women" in the film industry should not be harmed, she said. "For four decades, our women have worked shoulder-to-shoulder with men, striving to advance the country's academia, economy, politics and culture. We are committed to confronting any taint and ill-treatment, be it administrative, financial or moral, and we will not make any concession here."

Khazali invited the signatories to a meeting: "As the Deputy President for Women and Family Affairs, I think it is necessary to respond to the demands of women artists in the field of Iranian cinema and to maintain an open ear when working to protect the dignity of women in this field."

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance responded to the filmmakers' statement by establishing a Council of Professional Ethics and called for the HoC to extend its protection.

An Iranian MP, Morteza Mahmoudvand, addressed the parliament as follows: "An artist states publicly in an interview that she was sexually harassed and coerced backstage. When she protested, the perpetrator, a well-known person in the film industry, beat her. I ask: who is this impudent rascal who dares behave in such a way, in an Islamic country that has produced martyrs?" If the relevant authorities were not able to deal with such types, "the fighters and defenders of the honour of the Iranian nation" (synonymous with Hezbollah's thugs – Ed.) were ready and could step in, Mahmoudvand added.

Criticism levied at the signatories

Director and screenwriter Chista Yasrabi was the victim of sexual violence 15 years ago. At the time, she was asked by a well-known colleague with whom she was working on a screenplay to continue working at his home; other people would also be there. But that was not the case.

While she was working on the script, the man grabbed her from behind and tried to take her by force. She resisted and was beaten. "I grabbed an object on the table and flung it against the window creating a loud crash. The caretaker came and I wanted to leave, but my colleague refused to give me my bag. The house was on the outskirts, it was dark and my money was in my bag. I ran away without my bag. A motorcyclist took pity on me and brought me home."

Yasrabi filed a case against her harasser and lost because she did not have a medical certificate to prove the incident. Following the recent declaration, she has since spoken publicly about the case without naming the perpetrator.

On Instagram, Yasrabi laid into the declaration's signatories for not supporting her at the time: "You are a pack of liars and opportunists! How dare you take this position today? Back then you told me: don't say anything! The House of Cinema said: if you don't keep quiet, we will silence you! I spent 15 years in fear, panic and stress, and you made temporary marriages, became love partners for an hour or a day! You have received awards, you have been praised as chaste, dignified, the veiled great ladies of Iranian cinema. You have sold your souls and bodies and have branded me as mad."

Other women also have yet to sign the filmmakers' declaration because they fear further restrictions. Film producer and director Manijeh Hekmat, for example, sees it as a "trap". It would give the rulers the opportunity to have the morality police check film productions as if they were on the street, to see if headscarves are being worn properly, if a few strands of hair are visible, if the crew is dressed properly.

Hekmat made the feature film "Jaddeh Ghadim" about a rape five years ago. She asserts that all the experts involved confirm that under the current law, with the way the Iranian judiciary works, women will suffer maximum harm if they take a rapist to court. Lawyers have also issued such advice officially.

She obviously failed to convince her daughter Pegah Ahangarani, an actor and documentary filmmaker, of these arguments. The latter was one of the first signatories to put her name to the declaration.

Nasrin Bassiri

© Iran Journal/ 2022

The demands of the women filmmakers in Iran have so far been supported by the International Women's Film Festival Dortmund/Cologne and the Association of German Film Critics.

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