Iranian-Canadian director prevented from leaving Tehran to attend London film fest

By The Canadian Press and News Staff

An Iranian-Canadian director says he was unable to attend a film festival in London Friday as Iranian authorities prevented his departure.

Director Mani Haghighi said in an Instagram video that he was unable to attend a screening of his film at the London Film Festival because Iranian authorities stopped him from boarding his flight in Tehran and later confiscated his passport.

The British Film Institute said in a statement that Haghighi was due to attend the festival with his film “Subtraction,” which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last month.

While promoting the film, Haghighi told Variety his Iranian-Canadian identity was important to him. Haghighi attended school in Ontario and Quebec, and he told the entertainment publication he still has close friends in Canada.

In his video message, Haghighi said he was given no reasonable explanation by authorities for the confiscation, hinting it may be related to a video he posted two weeks ago in which he criticized Iran’s mandatory hijab law and crackdown on youth protesters.

“Perhaps the authorities thought that by keeping me here they could keep a closer eye on me, perhaps to threaten me and shut me up,” he says. “The very fact that I’m talking to you in this video right now kind of undermines that plan.”

Haghighi also considered that this could be what he called “an exile in reverse” by making his own country and home “an unbearable prison.”

“Being here, in Tehran right now, is one of the greatest joys of my life,” he says. “I cannot put into words the joy and the honour of being able to witness firsthand this great moment in history, and I would rather be here than anywhere else in the world right now.”

Public anger in Iran has coalesced around last month’s death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been detained by the country’s morality police, an advocacy group said. Amini’s death has led to a series of demonstrations against the government, some in which girls and women remove their mandatory head scarves on the street in a show of solidarity.

As the movement entered its fifth week, at least 233 protesters have been killed ⁠— 32 among the dead were below the age of 18, according to U.S.-based rights monitor HRANA.

The London Film Festival said it supports Haghighi and all filmmakers in their freedom to present their films around the world.

Global Affairs Canada said it’s aware “of reports of a Canadian citizen in Iran” and that officials were ready to provide consular assistance, but would not disclose any more information citing privacy concerns.

Spokesperson Patricia Skinner also said in an emailed statement Canadian citizens should avoid all travel to Iran due to the volatile security situation.

“Canada stands in solidarity with women and other protesters in Iran and calls on the Iranian regime to listen to the concerns of its citizens and protect their right to peaceful protest,” Skinner said.

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