Iranian Filmmaker Honored at the Jerusalem Film Festival

Mohsen Makhmalbaf is an acclaimed Iranian filmmaker, director, writer and producer and editor. With more than 20 films and over 50 awards, he has also been a jury member at 15 major film festivals. Makhmalbaf went into exile in 2005, following the changes in power in Iran. Living in Paris ever since, he has spent years fighting against dictatorships and promoting democracy, even leading to his injury and arrest on several occasions. At a young age, he was tortured by Iranian law enforcement officers, losing the use of his legs and undergoing extensive surgery to recover his ability to walk.

Makhmalbaf was invited as a guest of honor to this year's Jerusalem Film Festival, a 10 day festival that celebrates the finest in world cinema. Founded in 1984 by Lia Van Leer, the Jerusalem Film Festival is held at Jerusalem's Sultan's Pool amphitheater and the Jerusalem Cinematheque. This year’s festival took place between the 4th of July and 13th of July, and featured a special screening of Makhmalbaf's new film, The Gardener.

Makhmalbaf's attendance at the Jerusalem Film Festival was met with some opposition from various groups. Several Iranian scholars, artists and activists voiced their concerns through an open letter to Mohsen Makhmalbaf, which was widely circulated in the world press and in artistic circles. In addition, several Israeli politicians were opposed to hosting a vocal critic of some Israeli policies, and a citizen of an enemy state of Israel.

However, Makhmalbaf stated that he felt that cinema is a potent generator of change, and that his attendance at the festival would act to promote peace a mutual understanding. In response to the open letter, Mohsen Makhmalbaf told BBC that “Boycotting and writing statements does not solve anything. Why don’t the intellectuals try to solve the problems by traveling and having dialogue? Why is there no effort to remove religious hatred?”

He further went to add “Not going to Israel has become so fashionable. Why not start a peace movement? Why not start a movement to reduce religious hatred?” He stated that over the years, thousands of Israeli students has studied cinema and created outstanding films. These students have also been known for their admiration of Iranian films.

Makhmalbaf's attendance at the Jerusalem Film Festival received wide coverage in the Israeli and international media. His new film was well received, and enjoyed outstanding reviews from various critics. Over the backdrop of the Old City walls and the breathtaking Jerusalem skyline, his visit offered a glimmer of hope for future peace and relations between the peoples of Israel and Iran. Using the international language of film, this visit was an eye opening experience for all those involved in the festivities.