Calls are intensifying for Iranian authorities to drop all charges against two filmmakers and for their travel ban to be lifted.
One of the most eagerly anticipated titles premiering at this year’s 74th Berlin Film Festival is My Favourite Cake by Iranian directors Maryam Moghaddam and Behtash Sanaeeha.
The film is set to compete for the Golden Bear, but both filmmakers may be absent, as they have been banned from travel by Iranian authorities and face a trial in relation to their new film.
The pair discovered they were subject to a travel ban at Tehran airport at the end of September 2023, after their passports were confiscated as they went to catch a flight to Paris to work on post-production on My Favourite Cake.
In December, local media reported that Iranian security forces raided the house of the film’s editor, seizing rushes and materials related to the production.
The country’s hard-line Islamist authorities are believed to have been angered by the film, which according to the official logline revolves around the life of a 70-year-old woman who lives alone “until she decides to break her solitary routine and revitalize her love life.”
The film’s plot description states: “But as she opens up to romance, an unexpected encounter quickly evolves into an unforgettable evening.”
The fact that the Berlinale has chosen this film in Competition sends a strong message, as the festival is known for its political stances and giving a platform to voices facing political oppression.
Now, the Berlin Film Festival has put out a statement in support of the Iranian filmmakers.
In a release bannered “Call for Freedom Of Movement, Freedom Of Expression for Competition Directors Maryam Moghaddam and Behtash Sanaeeha”, the Berlinale said it had been informed the pair would not be allowed to leave Iran to attend the festival.
“The Berlinale is a festival fundamentally committed to freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of the arts, for all people around the world, and the festival is shocked and dismayed to learn that Moghaddam and Sanaeeha could be prevented from traveling to the festival to present their film and meet their audience in Berlin,” the press release states.
“We call for the Iranian authorities to return the passports and to end all restrictions preventing Maryam Moghaddam and Behtash Sanaeeha from freely travelling to Berlin this February, together with the other international directors and filmmaking talents from around the world, so they can present their new film My Favourite Cake as part of the Berlinale’s 2024 Competition,” said Berlinale heads Carlo Chatrian and Mariëtte Rissenbeek.
Moghaddam and Sanaeeha previously presented their film Ballad of a White Cow in Competition to critical acclaim at the 2021 Berlinale. It is a stunning and emotionally devastating film, telling the story of a woman who discovers her executed husband was innocent of the charges against him.
They were subsequently sued by the Revolutionary Guards for Ballad Of A White Cow, and charged with “propaganda against the regime and acting against national security”. They were later acquitted but the film remains banned in Iran, a country which ranked second on the PEN America 2022 Freedom to Write Index list of the top 10 jailers of writers globally.
The Berlin Film Festival runs from 15 – 25 February.