by Lukas Müller
In the autumn of 2018, I was invited to Germany for the private screening of Paradise at the invitation of Nurfilm, a small film company in Berlin. This film was apparently made with the help of and in cooperation with Nurfilm in Germany.
The director of this film is Ali Atshani from whom I had never seen any film before. I was surprised after I watched it and talked to Norik Keshishian, the CEO of Nurfilm and Mehdi Mansouri, one of the producers of this film (I think he funded the film) and I was even more surprised.
Since I travel to Iran for attending the Fajr International Film Festival every year and I am completely familiar with the atmosphere of this country and its cinema, I was very surprised to see this film was made in Iran and I was wondering about the person who took the risk and the amount of budget (about 2 million dollars according to Norik Kishishian and Mehdi Mansouri) and I did some research.
Some of those who read this article may not be aware of the situation, but what I know from Iran and its cinema, it was an unprecedented event and a kind of mainstream movement to produce and invest in such a subject in this country. That’s why I consider Mehdi Mansouri – the producer as he says and the producer and the investor as I believe – a brave hero in the film industry.
As you know, a religious revolution took place in Iran in 1979 and this country fell into the hands of religious extremist groups. At that time, I was a university student in the cinema and was interested in Asian cinema, especially the Middle East so I observed the events and changes brought about by the religious government in Iran. In this forty-one year period, I have seen a lot of successful Iranian films, either at the Berlinale (The Berlin International Film Festival) or at the Fajr International Film Festival in Tehran. I think someone who had the courage to produce such a film in Iran is a genius in every sense.
In Iran, any criticism of the religion results in death and no one dares to do it. But there is a film that criticizes a lot of laws and rules related to the Iranian government with a comedic approach and it shows the politicized and religious atmosphere of Iran. Both the producer and the investor of this film were aware that if all the scenes were filmed in Iran, it will be impossible to release it theatrically and the lives of the crew would probably be in danger.
Mehdi Mansouri said that although the price and value of the euro was much more expensive than the Iranian currency, he decided to shoot the film in Germany and Spain and the scenes related to Iran were filmed in Kashan, Iran. According to Mehdi Mansouri, he has been summoned to the Iranian intelligence services more than ten times since the day he produced the film and has been subjected to the most severe interrogations. He said they had difficulty transferring money to Germany considering the fact that Iran’s financial system was (and still is) under sanctions so they transferred the money to Germany and Spain through exchange or passengers.
Most film companies and producers all around the world try to make comedy and highest-grossing films, but a producer has the courage to fund a film in a limited country like Iran (according to Mehdi Mansouri, the budget of this film was five times more than a usual film made in Iran) and transfers the money to another country with difficult conditions and produces a film that spreads shout for freedom and democracy to everyone in the world.
I wish that there were producers like him who could produce films with the same subject all over the world so that the rulers and politicians would know that everyone in any country lives under one roof and have no problems with each other, no matter what their religion or belief is.
Although Mehdi Mansouri and the production crew of this film are still questioned by the Iranian intelligence services, but tonight, after watching a film made by an honorable man with difficulty, I walked home from the cinema and had the same strange feeling when I was young.