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Iranian street protests hit big screen in Venice

 Director Hana Makhmalbaf poses during a photocall of
Director Hana Makhmalbaf poses during a photocall of ' Ruzhaye Sabz' (Green Days) during the 66th Venice Film Festival September 11, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
— image credit: Reuters

By Silvia Aloisi

VENICE (Reuters) - Twenty one-year-old Iranian director Hana Makhmalbaf brings the bloody street protests that followed June's presidential vote to the big screen in a film looking at the hopes and frustrations of the country's youth.

"Green Days" focuses on the run-up to the election on the streets of Tehran and features interviews with ordinary young people, mostly supporters of opposition candidate Mirhossein Mousavi.

The film blends fictional elements with raw footage of the swelling protests by Mousavi's green-clad sympathizers after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared winner, and their repression by security forces.

Some of the images were shot with mobile phones by the demonstrators, as the government imposed restrictions on independent and foreign media.

One shows the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman who became a symbol of the protests.

Makhmalbaf's father Mohsen, a respected director, is now Mousavi's spokesman abroad and she said she had to leave Iran after the vote because the government wanted to arrest her.

She finished editing the film at a secret location in Italy to avoid Iranian censorship.

"Ahmadinejad can force me out of Iran, he can force foreign media out of Iran, but he can't force out all the Nedas in Iran and those who think like Neda," Makhmalbaf told Reuters in an interview, speaking through an interpreter.

"Green Days" is openly critical of the Iranian president, whom Mousavi's supporters accuse of stealing the election, but it does not glorify opposition leaders past and present.

"This is not a propagandistic film, made to support someone in particular. I also show a minority of people supporting Ahmadinejad to give them a chance to explain things, even if I don't believe them," said Makhmalbaf, wearing a green scarf.

"I wanted to show the reality of what is happening in Iran ... the hopes people had in those days."

DISILLUSIONED GENERATION

Through the main character Ava, a 20-year-old female playwright suffering from depression, the film also explores the disillusionment of a generation feeling that its voice is not being heard and its aspirations are being trampled.

When Ava asks Mousavi's supporters to give her one good reason to vote for him, most answer that he is "not perfect, but we have to choose between not perfect and bad."

Ava at one stage tries to confront former president Mohammad Khatami, who has thrown his weight behind Mousavi, at an election rally. "What have you done with my hopes?" she shouts.

Makhmalbaf, who made her first short film when she was just nine years old, is one of at least three Iranian directors at the Venice film festival this year, all denouncing what they see as the lack of freedom in their country.

Video artist Shirin Neshat's "Women Without Men," screening in the main competition, chronicles the lives of four women at the time of the 1953 foreign-backed coup.

Like Makhmalbaf, Neshat sees the struggle for democracy and for women's rights going hand-in-hand and says women are central to the protests today.

"Tehroun," by Nader T. Homayoun, shows the dark side of the capital, filling it with prostitutes, beggars and baby traffickers.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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