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Iran's Annual Film Festival On Verge Of Collapse After Boycott By Movie Stars

Sign used on social media accounts of Iranian film personalities to announce their boycott of Fajr Festival.
Sign used on social media accounts of Iranian film personalities to announce their boycott of Fajr Festival.

The major annual film festival in the Islamic Republic is on the brink of collapse after more than a hundred Iranian stars and artists decided to boycott it to protest government policies in the wake of the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane.

Initially launched in 1982, the International Fajr (Dawn) film festival takes place every year on the anniversary of the Islamic revolution (February 1-11), and the downfall of Iran's last monarch, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.

In a one-sentence joint statement, 139 movie stars and directors have boldly declared, "We will not attend the Fajr Festival."

The statement is widely circulated on social media after individual actors and directors boycotted the festival to protest the plane disaster.

The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps hit the plane with two "proximity missiles" early morning, Wednesday, January 8, minutes after it took off at Tehran's Imam Khomeini airport. All 176 onboard.

For three days, the Islamic Republic authorities vehemently insisted that technical failure caused the crash.

Ultimately, under internal and international pressure, the country's Joint Chief of Staff Headquarters admitted that an Islamic Revolution Guards Corps missile had downed the plane.

Thousands of people poured into the streets to protest the tragedy, condemning the Islamic Republic authorities for keeping people in the dark.

To display their empathy, 139 Iranian movie stars and film directors, including international award-winning directors, Jafar Panahi, Mohammad Rassoulof, and prominent actors, Hamid Farrokhnejad and Ali Mossaffa joined the boycott of the Fajr festival.

Earlier, the award-winning actor, director, and writer, Payman Maadi, had written on his Instagram page that all Iranians were in mourning.

"With what joy can I go to the festival and celebrate? When bright days come, we can all celebrate life and love together," Maadi posted in white letters against a solid black background, on January 13.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic Judiciary, IRGC, and conservative media barraged the protesting filmmakers and movie stars with threats and harsh criticism.

Three theater directors in Iran's second-largest city, Mashhad, were detained for a week. Popular actress, Taraneh Alidousi was summoned to court.

Nonetheless, there have also been a few stars who have begged to differ with their counterparts.

The star of Asghar Farhadi's Oscar-winning movies "A Separation" and "The Salesman," Shehab Hosseini, is among the few who have criticized Iranian artists for withdrawing from the Fajr Film Festival.

"Several filmmakers have decided to withdraw from the festival. I do respect their personal decisions. However, I have my criticism," Hosseini said, adding, "Sacrificing art and culture is no less of a disaster than any other. This festival can be turned into a memorial for those who were killed in recent events to help remember their names. It can be a place to express feelings with the families of the victims."

Starred and produced by Hosseini, a new film, "The Night" is scheduled to be screened in the official competition of the 38th Fajr Film Festival.

Nonetheless, under the boycott by Iranian artists, the Fajr International Film Festival organizers have announced the cancellation of its opening ceremony, initially scheduled for February 1.

In a statement released January 15, the organizers announced that in sympathy with the bereaved families of the victims of IRGC's "accidental” downing of the passenger plane, the Fajr Festival opening ceremony would not take place.

The Islamic Republic's official news agency, IRNA, reported on Wednesday, January 22, that the cost of the Fajr festival opening ceremony will be given to the families of the victims of the recent floods in the poverty-stricken province of Sistan and Baluchestan, southeast of Iran.

The reactions of movie stars and directors to the plane tragedy have not been limited to the Fajr film festival. Numerous musicians and vocalists, including maestro, Shahram Nazeri, Alireza Assar, and Alireza Qorbani, have also canceled all their concerts.

Two prominent Italian stage-directors, Eugenio Barba and Romeo Castellucci have also decided to stay away from the Fajr Theater Festival.