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The narrator of Tehran’s walls, Keywan Karimi
The narrator of Tehran’s walls, Keywan Karimi
By: Hanifi and Azad Azizyan

By: Hanifi y Azad Azizyan (English version). 

Original version in Persian in Radio Zamaneh.

“Walls are critical sites. They rise with cities and call on faces, names, and the written word; those strong and those weak, slogans, poems, and anthems. We read the walls to discover the dwellers' dreams, who they believe is sovereign is, as well as those who believe in changing the status quo. We realize how dissatisfied people come out of their hiding places to write something on wall in darkness, looking to the future, turning their back on the past. Walls remind us of constitutional and Islamic revolutions, reflecting the passion of freedom, or the suppressed anger of prisons, from Qasr to Evin. No wall, even if totally white, could be found without a trace of markers and sprays. Walls and writing never separate; this eternal promise is called Writing on the City…”

These were parts of the film Writing on the City produced by Kurdish film maker of Iran, Keywan Karimi. He got arrested on December the 14r  of 2013 due to content of this film and sentenced to 6 years of imprisonment and 223 lashes because of  “propagating against Islamic republic and insulting religious sanctities” by branch 28 of Islamic Revolution court regardless of the fact that it had never been screened.

Directors, producers, actors and cinema casts national communities in France and Italy, Journalists and film critics national communities in Italy, also 670 producers and authors from various countries asked for Keywan Karimi’s commute. San Sebastian international film festival and 45 European MPs supported Keywan Karimi in unison with 137 Iranian cinematographers.

Raoul Vaniegem, who is an active member of the Situationist Movement wrote a piece for Keywan after he saw the Writing on the City: “The wall is a mirror. / A mirror of the house, of the city, of the world. / Reflections of every shape and form stream by it as clouds do in the sky. / We have learned to go through the mirror so what was closed will open up. / The freedom of the walls breaks down the prison walls. / When reality is unveiled, dreams become reality. / Under the clothing of creeds and of ideas, what is lived is always bare. / Then nothing more conceals a human being from himself. / Someday the walls will have the transparency of our desires.”

Eliminated cinema

Islamic Republic had a twofold approach toward cinema since Bahman of the year 57 (Islamic Republic Revolution): on one hand unsparing support of promo and the holy defense films and on the other hand opposition in social films. 

In reformation era some sorts of social films got popular, but yet any attempt to show the challenges which an Iranian faces in society, would have gotten censored. 

“We are facing a system which does not feel any level of responsiblety for its people or artists. It would stop any kind of film making if it could” Reza Allameh Zadeh, director, reviewer, author and professor said.

Therefore we can call “the eliminated cinema” the third stream of Iran’s cinema.

Keywan Karimi is not the only director who got eliminated from Iran’s cinema body. He himself is a part of eliminated cinema. Karimi pays attention to “human” and “society” more than anything and artistically connects thought and cinema. He has a critical view point affected by Situationist Movement. 

The translator of Situationist books to Persian, Behrouz Safdari, has dedicated the research translate of “Guy Debord” cinema to Keywan Karimi. 

“In the introduction of “society of play” I’ve written that the goal is to pass the twofoldnesses and contrasts between artily moments and everyday moments of life. Therefore what we call artistic activities in traditional means of the words, is only valuable if it helps to provide situations in which there is no difference between daily life and art. Every piece of true art not only doesn’t give the audience the feel of being in a deadlock but also motivates them to make changes. In my belief motivation and production of Keywan Karimi’s cinema meets such qualities.” Behrouz Safdari says.

Reviewers and Keywan Karimi’s cinema

Karimi began his work by “working Nonnative Labors in Tehran” in the year 2005. So far he has made 13 films and short films, and participated in 21 world film festivals and won some prizes.

From his other films we can mention: Conex Anti-earthquake, Man and Bucket, Broken Border, The Adventure of Married Couples, Act and Writing on the City.

Giona Nazzaro, general Delegate Venice international film Critics’week, calls Karimi a “challenger” and “creative” film-maker also that his work is to deal with form and condition of society.

“Mr. Karimi's film deserve to be known and appreciated because of their unique character and clarity of mind”

“He was born after Islamic revolution and raised in Islamic Iran. According to this situation his attitude towards humans is appreciated. Before I had watched his films I knew about his attitude but his powerful illustration was surprising.” Reza Allameh Zadeh said about Keywan Karimi.

In documentaries director does not make the scenes so he won’t have exaggerated artily images. However Allameh Zadeh believes that in Karimi’s movies, director has complete dominance on image, camera, framing and specially on lighting.

Karimi does all this work to reflect those people’s voices whom we cannot hear anymore in Iran’s cinema.

Kaveh Abasian PhD student in Roehampton London University says: “Karimi is a symbol of all independent filmmakers that were forced to be silent, but he proved that they can, and they have to make films and talk about untold out of the system.”

Prison and lashes for Writing on the City

Documentary of Writing on the City first was shown in “Punto de vista” film festival in Spain. 

Oskar Alegria, president of this Film Festival says: “It was a very warm screening, our main room was full and people were really expectant and it really worked in the sense we want films to work: to cause a debate and a discussion, to be mindblending. We do not like films that want to sleep the audience conscience, but films that awake us and “Writing on the city” is totally that: a film that launches questions without answers.”

Writing on the City is the final work of Keywan Karimi, which is about the history of graffiti from revolution until after the green movement. This film won the special jury prize of Spain Punto de vista film festival.

According to Alegria this film is a compilation-historical about graffiti, which tries to tell the story of Iran through the words on the walls.

“Again, watching the film you can see how diverse people use a wall for protesting or for defending a government, so it is an impartial point of view, something very far from a document "against" anything… he is telling us reality”

Poetry, a crime against the state

After announcing the court judgment -6 years of prison and 223 lashes for Keywan Karimi- many of the international well-known characters among cinematographs, writers, European MPs and human rights activists protested.

Stelios Kouloglou, journalist, filmmaker and member of European Parliament on behalf of Syriza says: “Are we in the 21st century or in the Middle Age?! Don't do to people what Shah did to you!”

First group reaction, was the statement of philosophers, sociologists, writers and human right activists, called “Poetry, a crime against the state”. In parts of this statement is said: “In the urgency to save Keywan from the cruelty of this sentence, we need to rally public opinion. It will not be too hard for the left- and right-wing elected representatives of the country’s corrupt democracy to join the movement as they are always prepared to use humanism as soap to remove some of its filth. Neither should we rule out the possibility that the Iranian government will deem it preferable not to aggravate businessmen’s fake clear conscience unnecessarily. The latter, always seeking excuses to raise prices, are indeed banking on an allegedly moderate government as profitable for business.”

Also Amnesty International by writing a letter as a protest to the court judgment for Keywan Karimi, to Iran officials, asked to avoid execution of 6 years imprisonment. This statement were able to collect about 30 thousand signatures. 

“In my opinion lash sentence for an artist is one of the nastiest verdicts in today’s world. Lashing is as filthy as murdering.” Reza Allameh Zadeh said.

In this regard, Punto de vista film festival, “Navarro” community and “Jean Vigo’s family” started a campaign to support Keywan Karimi, and invited 223 well known directors to record a word with camera and send it to festival, to help making a short film named 223 Words to protest for Keywan Karimi’s 223 lashes.

Despite the widespread reactions to Keywan Karimi’s sentence, just 137 documentary directors in Iran protested by sending a letter to head of the judiciary. 

“Silence of Iranian Medias to Keywan Karimi’s cinema rings a bell for me like the silence that is surrounding my writings about introducing radical critique. I named that “intellectuals silence ruction” against “loneliness of dialectics whisper”. ” Safdari said. 

The adventure of Married Couple based on a story of Italo Calvino and the Broken Border documentary about bearers difficulties In Kurdistan borders are other Keywan Karimi’s films that were considered in national film festivals. Broken Border was screened in 65 international festivals and had won 9 prizes, including the best documentary in Beirut film festival.


Gobierno de Navarra Cultura Navarra
Ayuntamiento de Pamplona Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Huarte Fundación Caja Navarra Planetario de Pamplona Filmoteca de Navarra
Acción Cultural Española Canadá Filmoteca Española Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona Centro Galego de Artes da Imaxe
Elías Querejeta Zine Ezkola Universidad de Navarra - Facultad de Comunicación Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía Hotel Tres Reyes Radio 3
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