Iranian drama Yalda, A Night For Forgiveness will premiere in Sundance as planned even if director Massoud Bakhshi will not attend due to the flare-up in tensions between the US and Iran, its French producers and sales agent have confirmed.
“Massoud Bakhshi is proud the film was selected by Sundance and is happy for it to be screened in public there,” Paris-based JBA Production company and sales company Pyramide International said in a statement. “He has never considered asking for it to be withdrawn, on the contrary,” it continued.
They put out the statement on Tuesday (Jan 14) following Iranian media reports over the weekend that Bakhshi had written to Sundance, declaring he was withdrawing the work from the festival.
JBA co-chiefs Jacques Bidou and Marianne Dumoulin and Pyramide CEO Eric Lagesse told Screen they felt compelled to clarify the situation and counter the “false news”.
They said that Bakhshi wrote an email to the Sundance Institute’s international director Paul Federbush and artist relations manager Tony Coppola last week informing them that he could not travel to the festival given the current circumstances but at no point expressed his intention to withdraw the film.
Instead, Bakhshi said he felt the need to remain in Iran out of solidarity for its people but also emphasised the importance he attached to cultural events like Sundance, ending the email with: “We live in a dark time and we need the light of culture more than ever. I hope the Sundance festival will bring this light to the darkness.”
They added that the director had not made any separate declarations to the Iranian media.
The selection of Yalda, A Night For Forgiveness for Sundance’s World Dramatic Cinema Competition was announced on December 5, a month before the US assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani’s in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, which has heightened tensions between the US and Iran.
Beyond the difficulty of obtaining a visa for Bakhshi to travel to the US at this time, the statement said it would have been complicated for the filmmaker to attend Sundance for the other reasons.
“Don’t forget that his first film is still banned in Iran for political reasons,” it said, referring to the 2012 feature A Respectable Family, which JBA also produced.
It premiered in Cannes Directors’ Fortnight in 2012 but was banned in Iran for its critical portrait of contemporary Iranian society.
“His position is delicate given the current tensions between the two countries,” the statement explained. “Travelling to the US at this time would not be without consequences for him in his own country.”
“Out of a desire to keep things calm and to continue living in Iran and making films there, Massoud took this decision,” it continued.
Bakhshi casts an equally critical but compassionate eye on his country in Yalda, A Night for Forgiveness which revolves around the fate of a young woman facing execution for the manslaughter of her older husband.
Set against the backdrop of the Iranian winter solstice festival of Yalda, an old Zoroastrian feast still celebrated by Iranians as a family gathering, it unfolds within the framework of a live TV show in which victims of a crime decide whether to pardon or condemn the perpetrator in front of a live audience.
Behnaz Jafari (3 Faces, A Respectable Family) co-stars as the daughter of a late advertising boss who is invited to the show to decide the fate of a woman and family friend who killed her father. It soon becomes clear there are hidden depths to the case and a series of twists brings the drama to a suspenseful denouement.
The ensemble cast also features Babak Karimi (The Salesman) and rising Iranian actress Sadaf Asgari, who made her big screen debut in Ali Asgari’s drama Disappearance, which premiered in Venice in 2017.
The film was developed with the support of the Sundance Lab as well as the TorinoFilmLab, Le Groupe Ouest and La Fabrique des Cinémas Cannes.