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August 31, 2011 / California Film Institute Blog

Maryam Keshavarz, Cast of “Circumstance” Face Threats and Exile for Their Work

The relative success of Maryam Keshavarz’s Circumstance, a film about lesbian lovers in Iran, has begun to have consequences for the director and her crew. The film has been denounced in Iran, and reactions to the movie by members of the Iranian and Iranian-American communities have ranged from questions of her authority on the subject to emailed threats to her and her family’s well being. The main issues to these detractors have been the portrayal of Iranian society, the idea of a lesbian relationship in Iran, and dialogue that shines a negative light on the mullahs. While she expected much of this to happen, and in interviews she has laughed the threats off, the threats present a real danger and worry her nonetheless.

Keshavarz has tried to avoid these dangers to the best of her abilities. Knowing full well the possible impact of the film, she made sure that none of the actors lived in Iran (the leads are Iranians living in Canada and France) so that they would not be put in danger upon returning home, and the film was shot in Beirut, not Tehran. However, the crew even encountered problems there, when Beirut police visited the set just before the filming of a particularly explicit scene, forcing everyone to pretend that they were in fact shooting an American romantic comedy in order to avoid having the ten days’ worth of film that was on set confiscated.

Sadly, this is not the first time that Keshavarz has been a target of violence; while living in America in the aftermath of the Iran Hostage Crisis, she and her family were subjected to taunts and beatings, and always felt fear as an adolescent that while visiting Iran she would be arrested for smuggling Michael Jackson CDs or other American cultural items. Now, however, Keshavarz and the cast and crew of Circumstance fear for the safety of their remaining family in Iran, and realize that they will most likely never be able to return.

Circumstance, which won the Audience Award at Sundance and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize, is now playing at theaters in New York and Los Angeles. It will start playing in theaters throughout the Bay Area on September 9th.

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