Iranian film director Tahmineh Milani.
Iranian film director Tahmineh Milani. Photo by Courtesy
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An Iranian director has stepped down as a judge at an international film festival following the appointment of an Israeli filmmaker to the judges panel.

According to Indian and Iranian media reports this weekend, director Tahmineh Milani had been slated to serve as a judge at the International Film Festival of India, which opened in Goa on November 23. Shortly before the festival began, however, another judge, Danish director Susanne Bier, announced that she would not be able to serve on the panel. Festival management called in Israeli director Dan Wolman to replace Bier, spurring harsh criticism in Iran of Milani for agreeing to sit alongside an Israeli on the jury.

"We are not politicians, and we have no problem working together," Milani told the Times of India, even as she faced flak in Iran. "Cinema is not bound by political boundaries; its appeal is universal."

On Thursday, however, Milani left the festival and resigned from its judges panel.

Festival organizers attributed Milani's departure to her father's ill health, but Tehran newspapers claimed that Milani left the festival due to political pressure from Iranian elements.

In a letter that Milani sent to the Iranian news agency Fars following her withdrawal, she commented, "None of the jury members attending the international festivals are representatives of their country. These jury members are different from athletes who are sent to represent their countries."

"I still cannot believe why my presence as the jury member beside the independent filmmaker who himself disapproves of his country's politics provoked such widespread criticism by some in Iran," Milani said.

Wolman declined to comment.

The incident marks the second time this year that an Iranian filmmaker has been prevented from serving as a film festival judge outside Iran due to apparent political reasons. In May, director Jafar Panahi was unable to attend the Cannes Film Festival, where he was due to serve as a judge, following his arrest and incarceration for "acting against national security and propaganda against the regime."

Nevertheless, the festival this weekend did offer some good news for Israelis: Israeli actor Sasson Gabai walked away on Saturday night with the Best Actor award for his role as Yakov Fidelman in Yossi Madmoni's film "Restoration."