Concerns are growing for Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof who had his passport confiscated and was banned from travelling outside of his native Iran by local authorities in September.

Some eight weeks later, Rasoulof remains blocked in Iran.

The director failed to make it to Los Angeles for the screening of his political thriller Manuscripts Don’t Burn (pictured) at the AFI FEST earlier this week and is also expected to be a no-show at the Stockholm International Film Festival (November 6-17).

Staff and guests at Stockholm – including US actor Sean Gullette and Swedish director Tarik Saleh – stood blindfolded outside the Iranian embassy in Stockholm on Tuesday (November 12) protesting Rasoulof’s travel ban.

The blindfolds referenced a scene in Rasoulof’s Manuscripts Don’t Burn about a political prisoner who manages to secretly write his memoirs despite being under the constant surveillance of state security apparatus.

“We want to show that it is unacceptable to prevent filmmakers, artists and journalists from performing their work,” said Swedish director Kristian Petri, who is the chair of this year’s Stockholm jury.

“It’s important that we colleagues jointly raise our voices and protest against the censorship that Mohammad Rasoulof is subjected to.”

The festival is due to screen Manuscripts Don’t Burn on November 16.

Travel ban

Rasoulof, who is based in Germany, was barred from leaving Iran after a short visit in September.

He was to have accompanied his film to a slew of festivals this autumn, also including the Nuremburg International Human Rights Film Festival (NIHRFF), the Hamburg Film Festival, Un Etat du Monde et du Cinéma at the Forum des Images in Paris, the Brisbane International Film Festival and the Middle Eastern Film Festival in Sao Paolo.

Sources close to Rasoulof said the director had been taken to Iran’s Interior Ministry for questioning but was released afterwards and is currently staying with relatives in Tehran.

Banned for 20 years

The covertly shot Manuscripts Don’t Burn is inspired by the so-called “chain murders” in which Iran’s secret police are alleged to have murdered more than 80 prominent dissident intellectuals they considered a threat to the Islamist state.

The Iranian authorities have always denied any state involvement in the crimes.

In 2010, Rasoulof was given a six-year sentence and banned from making films for 20 years on charges of filming without a permit. The prison term was later reduced to one year but has yet to be executed.

As yet no official reason has been given for the confiscation of Rasoulof’s passport. Sources say Rasoulof’s current travel ban goes beyond the fact he defied the 20-year film-making ban.

“The subject-matter of the film is very sensitive. He crossed a red line,” said the source. “People told him not to go back but he did.”

Cannes winner

Manuscripts premiered in Un Certain Regard in Cannes this year where it won the Fipresci Prize. Rasoulof’s penultimate picture Goodbye premiered in Un Certain Regard in 2011, winning best director and the Jury Prize.

Paris-based sales house Elle Driver acquired international rights to the film during Cannes.

“We had a long list of festivals lined-up for this autumn but we have no news on whether he will get his passport back,” Elle Driver co-chief Adeline Fontan Tessaur told ScreenDaily.

“The only information Mohammad has is that he will be informed sometime in the future. This is an infringement of his basic human right to travel freely as he wishes.”

Rasoulof’s travel ban comes against a backdrop of a thawing of relations between Iran and the West following the election of President Hassan Rouhani, replacing the repressive regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

There had been hopes that Rouhani’s arrival would usher in a more liberal environment for artists but a number of prominent filmmakers including Jafar Panahi remain barred from travelling and film-making.