Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper has reportedly been criticized by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for encouraging attacks against Muslims. The state-run IRAN Farsi newspaper published comments Tuesday it attributed to Khamenei. “The movie ‘Sniper’ that is made by Hollywood encourages a Christian or non-Muslim youngster to harass and offend the Muslims as far as they could,” the newspaper quoted Khamenei, who also reportedly admitted to not having seen the film, as saying in a meeting with representatives of Iranian religious minorities in the country’s parliament three weeks ago. There was no explanation as to why his comments were now being shared with the public.
American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper, tells the real-life story of Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history who served four tours of duty in Iraq, where he earned the nickname “the Devil of Ramadi” from insurgents following his exploits in combat. It has drawn in over $300 million in the U.S. alone since its release on Christmas Day last year.
Despite accusations in some quarters the film glorifies war and killing, American Sniper has proven a box office hit across the Arab world, where it has attracted almost 300,000 admissions since its release across the region January 22. The film has even managed to draw in some 7,000 admissions in Iraq, where much of the film is set. In a sign, however, of Iraq’s bitter political divisions, the film is only playing in the semi-autonomous area of Kurdistan. All planned screenings in Baghdad, on the other hand, were pulled for fear of inciting protests and potential violence.
Elsewhere in Iran, Golden Bear-winning filmmaker Jafar Panahi finally broke his silence following his victory at the Berlin Film Festival for Taxi. In comments reported by the country’s Ilna news agency, Panahi expressed his gratitude for the win but pleaded with authorities to allow his film to be screened in Iran. “No prize is worth as much as my compatriots being able to see my films,” commented the acclaimed filmmaker. “The people in power accuse us of making films for foreign festivals. They hide behind political walls and don’t say that our films are never authorized for screening in Iranian cinemas.”
Taxi is Panahi’s third film since he was arrested and banned from making films by the Iranian authorities in 2010. Prior to that, he had been one of his country’s leading independent filmmakers, winning the Golden Lion in Venice for The Circle in 2000, as well as the Un Certain Regard Jury prize in Cannes for Crimson Gold in 2003 and the Jury Grand Prix in Berlin in 2006 for Offside.
Even though he is no longer under house arrest, Panahi is still unable to leave Iran and a six-year prison sentence remains against him, although it has yet to be enforced. Panahi’s victory has also proven awkward for authorities in Iran. The head of Iran’s Cinema Organization, Hajjatollah Ayoubi, published an open letter that seemed to both decry Berlinale topper Dieter Kosslick’s decision to select Taxi as well as celebrate Panahi’s ability to make it.
“I, like many other lovers of cinema, hear the ominous sound of the footsteps of politics at the Berlin festival. I, like the rest of you, wanted Berlin to remain a refuge of culture and art, but it seems that someone preferred politics to art,” commented Ayoubi. “I regret that you wish to drive everybody in a taxi of new misunderstandings about the Iranian people by screening a film made by a director who has been banned by law from making films, but nevertheless, he has done exactly that. I am delighted to announce that the director of Taxi continues to drive in the fast lane of his life, freely enjoying all of its blessings.”