This upcoming Friday, November 26 the 5th Freedom To Create Prize will be announced in Cairo, Egypt. The prize celebrates the courage and creativity of artists who promote social justice and who are “the voices of courage, unity, strength, reconciliation healing and hope.”
The Freedom to Create Prize so closely aligns with what we do here at Art Threat, I’m going back in time this week to highlight the two winners from 2009 before fast forwarding to this year’s inspiring artists.
Mohan Makhmalbaf is, by any definition of the term, a remarkable man. He was granted the 2009 Freedom to Create Main Prize for his years of dedicated work creating films which explore and comment on the Iranian state and its people. Raised in Iran, Makhmalbaf left the country in protest against Iranian dictatorship in 2005 when Ahmadinejad came into power.
His 2001 film Kandahar (Afghanistan) made the Times’ top 100 films in the history of world cinema. His long CV of achievements includes the authorship of 27 literary and story books, direction of 18 feature films, 3 documentaries and 4 short films in six countries. He is a filmmaker, novelist, screenwriter, editor, producer, and human rights activist.
Following the 2009 Iranian presidential elections, protests flared up in dispute of the victory of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. These protests, nicknamed the “Green Revolution” after presidential candidate Mir-Houssein Moussavi’s campaign colour, began appearing globally, and the Iranian government acted quickly to suppress protests and block transmission of the information via websites, mobile phones and text messaging. Both peaceful and riotous demonstrations were culled with the use of batons, pepper spray, and in some cases firearms, and it is estimated between 36 and 72 people died during the protests (depending on if you go with the statistics provided by the government or Moussavi’s supporters). When the press office of Moussavi was closed, he went to Makhmalbaf, who he knew would be able to use his gift and courage to be a voice of Iran’s democratic movement.
For years, Iranian authorities have worked to censor Makhmalbaf, and many of his films are banned in Iran.
In his acceptance speech, Makhmalbaf dedicated his award to Iran’s Green Movement and its spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri – one of Iran’s most outspoken critics.
Commenting on his Freedom to Create award last year, Makhmalbaf said, “People of my country (Iran) are killed, imprisoned, tortured and raped just for their votes. Each award I receive gives me an opportunity to echo their voices across the world, asking for democracy for Iran and peace for the world. I would like to dedicate this very important prize to Mr. Montazeri, one of the bravest voices in Iran. It is vital that we continue to talk about the quest for freedom and democracy for the Iranian people.”
In addition to his creative and expressive achievements he lived in Afghanistan for a period of two years where he carried out 82 human rights projects, including the building of schools in the towns of Herat and Zaranj and the teaching of cinema, as well as helping to set up the Afghan cinema which had been destroyed during the Taliban regime.
Winners of the Freedom to Create prize receive a portion of $125,000 in prize money, which Makhmalbaf donated to the Green Movement NGO to help the victims of the incidents and protests following the 2009 election in Iran.