Mohsen Makhmalbaf, one of Iran's most famous directors, has committed one of that nation's gravest sins: he visited Israel. And now, there's a movement in the country to not only voice "deep dismay" with Makhmalbaf's actions but also pretend he doesn't exist by eliminating any trace of his legacy from the country's film museum.
If you're unfamiliar with Makhmalbaf, he's arguably Iran's finest filmmaker, having written and directed over 20 films. Those films have nabbed him awards like the Federico Fellini Honor from the U.N. in 2001, prizes and recognition from film festivals like Cannes, and honorary degrees at universities in France and Scotland. Politically, the filmmaker has voiced his disapproval with Iran's repressive government—he left the country after the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005.
Earlier this month, he was invited and accepted an invite to the Jerusalem Film Festival, which the London-based director accepted, telling The Guardian that he went as "an ambassador for peace." He was invited to screen The Gardener, a film about an Iranian filmmaker and his son visiting Israel. And the film went over well with festival-goers, Makhmalbaf said:
"There was an amazing reaction, they showed The Gardener three times and each time the theatre was full and hundreds of people queuing up outside who wanted to come in," he said. "They clapped for so long. And I asked them if you are so much interested in our art, why is that your government is going to attack us?"
That's a brave, politically-charged question to ask considering Israel's not-so-veiled hints at preemptively striking Iran in recent months. And that question, of course, is also why Makhmalbaf isn't a persona non grata in his native Iran. Because of a history of tension between the two countries and Israel's ongoing conflict in West Bank and Gaza, Iranians have been forbidden to visit Israel and could face five years in prison for it—the fine print of Iranian passports states that the document doesn't afford them travel to "occupied Palestine," a.k.a. Israel.