Iranian Drama ‘Yalda’ to Screen at Sundance Without Director Due to U.S.-Iran Tensions

U.S.-Iran tensions have put Iranian director Massoud Bakhshi whose daring drama “Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness,” is set to premiere at Sundance, in a tough spot.

The film’s production and sales companies issued a joint statement on Tuesday announcing that Bakhshi will not personally be attending Sundance due to the current U.S.-Iran crisis. But they also denied recent Iranian media reports claiming that the director had pulled “Yalda” from the festival.

“Massoud Bakhshi is proud that his film has been selected for the Sundance Film Festival and happy that it will be screened in public there,” the statement said. “He never thought of asking that it be pulled. On the contrary,” it added.

The statement went on to note that Bakhshi’s “position is delicate, given the current tensions between the two countries.”

“Besides the difficulties of obtaining a Visa, traveling to the U.S. at this time, would not be without consequences for him within his own country,” it said.

Therefore, “In the interest of keeping things calm and due to his will to continue to live in Iran and make films, he has made this decision [not to attend Sundance],” the statement underlined.

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Paris-based production company JBA Production and a sales outfit Pyramide International also pointed out that, “for political reasons” Bakhshi’s daring first film “A Respectable Family,” which screened at Cannes in 2012 and denounces corruption in his country, is still banned in Iran.

They said that Bakhshi ended his note to Sundance’s international chief Paul Federbush to inform him that would stay at home on a conciliatory note, as follows:

“We live in a dark time and we need the light of culture more than ever. I hope the Sundance Film Festival will bring this light to the darkness.”

“Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness,” which is Bakhshi’s second feature, is about a young woman named Maryam who has been sentenced to death for murdering her older husband, Nasser, according to the Sundance synopsis.

Iranian law allows for the victim’s family to forgive her and spare her life. So in the film Maryam’s fate will be decided by Nasser’s daughter, Mona. However this crucial decision will be made on the country’s most popular televised reality show live in front of millions of viewers. The show is being aired during Yalda, which in Iran is the winter solstice celebration, traditionally a period of forgiveness.

Born in Tehran in 1972, Massoud Bakhshi worked as film critic, scriptwriter, and producer, before making a dozen documentaries and several shorts, which led to his two features.