Art has become scary reality for Narges Kalhor. After the Iranian director travelled to Nuremberg earlier this month to screen her new film, Darkhish (The Rake), at the Perspektive International Human Rights Film Festival, she was told that she was not welcome back in her home country.
Kalhor, 25, the daughter of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s media and cultural adviser, is an avid supporter of the Iranian opposition and one of the thousands of youths that demonstrated after the country’s controversial elections in August. Darkhish is an allegory for the current malaise in Iran: it tells the story of a society where a machine acts as judge, jury and executioner, and tortures people to death the moment they are pronounced guilty. “It is a commentary on a situation where torture is being used, where the legal system has been hollowed out,” says Andrea Kuhn, the festival’s director.
The filmmaker hoped to quietly show her movie in Germany and return to Iran. But word of her anti-torture film leaked onto the Internet, and Kalhor was threatened with arrest were she to fly home. “I was told that it would be better not to come home and that if I went back now I would be met at the airport by the secret police,” she told the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel. “I have no options. I cannot go back to Iran.”
Kalhor is living in a refugee centre near Nuremberg while she waits to see whether her application for political asylum will be accepted. “She’s very sad, she’s very confused and very frightened,” says Kuhn. But Kalhor’s trials have made her a hero for the Iranian opposition. “The children of government officials don’t believe in the work of their fathers,” says Ramin Jahanbegloo, an Iranian scholar at the University of Toronto. “She somehow represents the image of rebellious Iranian youth today.”