Mohsen Makhmalbaf winner of the FTC Prize

November 28, 2009 § Leave a comment

Wealthy philanthropist and chairman of Orient Global Richard Chandler, established the ‘Freedom to Create Prize’ in 2008, in a bid to shine a light into those parts of the world where creative freedom is not a given, and to use the arts to drive change in broken societies.

The prize is open to artists in all fields and is awarded to an individual or group that uses its creative work to promote social justice, build the foundations for an open society and inspire the human spirit”.

More than 1,000 applicants from Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Europe entered their work, and eventually five finalists were chosen by judges Daniel Barenboim, the human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson and last year’s inaugural winner, the Zimbabwean playwright Cont Mhlanga.

This year, the prize was awarded to Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the celebrated Iranian filmmaker and official overseas spokesman for 2009 Iranian presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. The high profile ceremony took place on 25 November at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London where a cheque for $50,000 was presented to Makhmalbaf. Half of the money that is won must obligatorily go to a cause of the winner’s choosing. Makhmalbaf announced that he will donate his fund to the Green Movement NGO to help the victims of the incidents following the election in Iran.

Commenting on his award, Makhmalbaf said, “People of my country (Iran) are killed, imprisoned, tortured and raped just for their votes. Every award I receive means an opportunity for me to echo their voices to the world, asking for democracy for Iran and peace for the world.”

Over the past 10 years, Makhmalbaf has written and directed a large number of feature films and  short films that have been widely presented in international film festivals.

Time magazine selected his 2001 film, Kandahar, as one of top 100 films of all time. Kandahar was an inquiring film about life under the Taliban in Afghanistan. Shot largely in Iran but also clandestinely in Afghanistan, the film had its premiere in Cannes four months before 9/11, after which it went on to achieve a wide audience and win for its director the Federico Fellini Prize from UNESCO.

Other films of his include Boycott, an early work from 1985 set in Iran before the Islamic revolution which swept the Shah’s regime from power. Based on Makhmalbaf’s own experiences, it chronicles the experiences of a young Communist sympathiser who is sentenced to death. Five years later Time of Love, a frank portrayal of marital infidelity, became the first of several films of his to be banned in Iran.

Following this year’s disputed Iranian elections, Makhmalbaf diverted his attentions from filmmaking to be the voice of defeated presidential candidate Mir-Houssein Moussavi.

Makhmalbaf’s rise to become leader of the new wave of Iranian cinema came from unlikely beginnings. When he was 15 he formed an underground Islamic militia group and was shot and jailed by the time he was 17. While imprisoned, Makhmalbaf educated himself and underwent an intellectual renaissance after which he distanced himself from violence, believing Iranian society suffers more from cultural poverty than anything else.

His nominating party, ZirZamin, an alternative Iranian media magazine said: His works were nominated because they promote freedom, understanding, open societies, secular humanism and respect to others. His analysis and depiction tasks people to questions real in everybody’s life and social realism. He is not only a film director but an educationalist, author and analyst.”

Panellist Daniel Barenboim, acclaimed conductor and founder of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, said of Makhmalbaf: “His voice has been one of the most important artistic contributions from Iran to world culture over the last decades. His films have given international audiences a window into contemporary Iran. His work in Afghanistan, both artistic and humanitarian, has added valuable facets to the understanding of this troubled country.
The second place prizewinner was the Burmese refugee women’s group, The Kumjing Storytellers, who use giant paper maché dolls to represent their stories of ethnic persecution in Burma. Not simply an artwork, but a living art action, The Journey of Kumjing is a performance in which these martyred women can tell their stories, challenge discrimination and assert their human rights.

He has also fostered a new generation of Iranian filmmakers. Last not least, his support for the recent peaceful protests against the stolen Iranian elections made it more difficult for the regime in Tehran to silence the opposition. Especially in view of the deeply unsettling remarks and intentions of President Ahmadi-Nejad, his efforts to publicize dissenting views deserve support.”

The third place prizewinner is Afghan female artist Sheenkai Alam Stanikzai, who used video performance, installation and photography to tackle the subjugation and violent persecution of women in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries. Stanikzai is one of a generation of Afghans who grew up during the Taliban which censored culture and banned music, and her art explores the re-emergence of Afghan spirit after years of oppression.

The Youth Prize winners were Poimboi Veeyah Koindu, former child soldiers from Sierra Leone who use dance to promote community healing.

Founder Richard Chandler said he was humbled by the bravery of this year’s winners adding their courage and stories epitomised the daily sacrifices made by artists on frontlines from around the world.

For more information about the prize, please visit:

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