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IRAN: Annual film festival to kick off amid opposition calls for boycott

January 21, 2010 |  9:32 am

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Packed with prominent film directors, actors, international artists and a crème de la crème of Iran's cultural elite, Tehran's Fajr International Film Festival is undoubtedly Iran's biggest and most popular cinematic and cultural event of the year. 

Each year, the festival attracts thousands of Iranian film and theater fans, especially young students. People flock to the event to see the latest Iranian films, a selection of productions from abroad and, perhaps, catch a glimpse of their favorite director, actor or actress.

But this year's festivities risk being overshadowed by politics and current unrest in the country. Some Iranian artists have called for a boycott of the festival, which is scheduled to kick off Jan. 25. Those urging a boycott are said to be angry about crackdowns on the political opposition.

Calls to boycott the festival also recently surfaced in media reports and on blogs and social-networking sites.

Radio Zamaneh, a Dutch-funded Persian-language radio station, reported that a group of Iranian filmmakers had issued a statement asking foreign artists to boycott this year's Fajr film festival over what they said was the Iranian "government’s violent treatment of the people."

"Your presence in this year’s Fajr Festival will be akin to ignoring the struggles of oppressed people of Iran for their rights," read the statement, according to Radio Zamaneh.

The Radio Zamaneh report claimed that several people prominent in Iranian cinema, including actor Ezzattollah Entezami and director Asghar Farhadi, have turned down offers to sit on the jury panel in the festival.

One young Iranian writer noted in a conversation with The Times that the "big names" in Iranian cinema were nowhere to be seen in the coming festival.

There is also an online petition urging the international arts community to boycott the event.

The blogs were abuzz over the rumored boycotts.

"Every year, we get the Fajr program with excitement and then get ready to stand there in the mile-long lines for tickets ... but this year, in cultural circles everywhere, you can hear the same conversation: to boycott or not to boycott?" read an excerpt from the post "This year Fajr just won't be the same" on the Pedestrian blog.

The text was accompanied by a series of pictures of Iranian film figures said to be staying away from this year's event, as well as photos from previous years' Fajr festivals, showing crowds of people checking out festival programs and waiting in long lines for tickets.

On Facebook, a group called "Boycott the Fajr Film Festival," with a green logo referencing the Iranian opposition movement, had attracted nearly 2,000 members by today, while users on the micro-blogging service Twitter are urging people not to attend the festival.

According to the official festival program, dozens of Iranian films and several foreign films, including productions from China, India and Bangladesh, will be competing for a series of awards this year.

This all comes as Iranian opposition supporters are gearing up for new protests during the celebrations of the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution on Feb. 11. 

A flood of messages and video advertisements calling for people to take to the streets have been posted on opposition websites and social-networking sites just over the past couple of days.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut and Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran

Photo: Calls to boycott Iran's biggest cinematic and cultural event of the year, the Fajr International Film Festival, have emerged as the festival is about to kick off. Credit: the Fajr International Film Festival

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