Well-known for her provocative documentaries on social issues as well as her tireless activism, Iranian director Mahnaz Mohammadi has made headlines in the likes of The Guardian, the Hollywood Reporter or Variety, and has been supported by Amnesty International and French Directors Guild (Société des réalisateurs de films) among others.
Mohammadi wrote and directed her first short documentary, Women without Shadows, in 2003. She instantly received praise at international film festivals for her depiction of homeless and abandoned women in a state-run shelter and continued documenting everyday lives and struggles of people on her next couple of films.
The award-winning feature documentary Travelogue was shot on a train going from Tehran to Ankara, where Mohammadi questioned passengers about the reasons why they decided to flee the country. The film premiered in 2010 at the “A Day in Tehran” event in Paris, with the director in attendance, which became one of the the reasons for Iranian authorities to ban Mohammadi from leaving the country and from producing any more films.
At the time, Mohammadi was already considered a public enemy, her passport was withheld by the court, and her home was searched. The authorities also confiscated her work and filming equipment along with other personal belongings, while banning her from working as a filmmaker. Several of her films have been banned in Iran.
In 2011, she starred in Reza Serkanian’s drama The Momentary Marriage and was invited to the 64th Cannes Film Festival, but was not allowed to attend. French filmmaker Costa-Gavras read a letter she sent, including the famous words, “I am a woman, I am a filmmaker, two sufficient grounds to be guilty in this country.” In June, she was arrested and jailed in Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison. A month later, she was released on bail.
On June 7, 2014, Mohammadi was arrested again, and faced a five-year-long prison sentence for “endangering national security” and distributing “anti-regime propaganda”. State authorities accused her of working with BBC Persia, al-Jazeera English, and other international networks and media: a charge that more or less equals espionage in Iran’s legal system. Mohammadi denies ever having worked with any of said media.
The French Directors Guild launched a petition demanding Mohammadi’s release, the first signatories including Costa Gavras, Gilles Jacob, Reza Serkanian, and Bertrand Blier. She was released after two years thanks to her friend, a famous Iranian actor´s intervention and went on to work on her first feature film together with Mohammad Rasoulof.