Saeed Roustayi (photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Iranian filmmaker Saeed Roustaee has been sentenced to six months in prison and a five-year exclusion from the broader film industry after his latest film, Leila’s Brothers (2022), screened at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. Roustaee reportedly submitted the film to the festival unaltered despite restrictions from the Cinema Organization of Iran, a facet of Iran’s Ministry of Culture, demanding that he modify the film to omit controversial material. The Islamic Revolutionary Court reportedly charged the filmmaker with “propaganda against the government” for the film’s contents critiquing the Iranian government’s handling of the nation’s current economic state as well as the societal position of women.

Leila’s Brothers follows 40-year-old family breadwinner Leila as she devises a business plan to lift her four brothers and elderly parents out of poverty in light of a dire economy caused by United States-imposed sanctions and at the behest of condescending patriarchal incompetence. The film screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2022, where it was nominated for a Palme d’Or and won the FIPRESCI Prize and the Citizenship Prize, and later made its way to the Munich Film Festival a month later, earning a special mention for the ARRI/OSRAM Award for Best International Film.

The Cinema Organization of Iran subsequently banned Roustaee’s film from screening anywhere in the nation before it screened in Munich, citing “the ongoing nature of [the director’s] violation” of failing to obtain international screening permits or adjusting the film. Last January, the film’s producer, Javad Norouzbeigi, was summoned by the Iranian police for his involvement with the feature.

In addition to serving a jail sentence and pausing his work in the film industry for five years, Roustaee is also required to take a course on “filmmaking while preserving national interests” at the Qom Vision and Sound Academy. Some reports indicate that Roustaee may only be obligated to serve a fraction of his sentence in prison. The Association of Iranian Cinema Directors decried Roustaee’s sentence as “the strangest judicial verdict in the history of Iranian cinema,” calling for the prevention of the director’s imprisonment “so as not to create more of this atmosphere of despair and hopelessness” in the industry.

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Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...