“It’s Like Oxygen” – Deadline

Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, who is at the Berlin Film Festival as a member of Kristen Stewart’s jury, has talked passionately about the importance of art in her native country as an antidote to its repressive government.

“In a country, like Iran, which is a dictatorship, art is not only an intellectual or philosophical thing, it’s essential, it’s like oxygen,” she said at the festival’s opening press conference.

“Doing art and being an artist is something that goes beyond, because your existence, by being an artist, is put into danger.”

Iran’s authoritarian government has long persecuted professionals in the country’s creative community when they stepped out of line with its hardline Islamist views and policies.

The repression has ratcheted up over the last year. A brutal crackdown on freedom of expression, that preceded the recent protests, saw Berlinale Golden Bear winners Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof jailed for more than six months.

Both men were recently released on bail but a number of less internationally renowned filmmakers and artists remain behind bars.

Farahani has been living in France since 2012.

She was declared persona non grata back home and forced to flee after she got on the wrong side of Iran’s repressive Islamic Republic regime for taking a role in Ridley Scott’s 2008 spy thriller Body Of Lies, appearing without a hijab, and then later posing nude for French magazine Madame Figaro.

Farahani now regularly works between Europe and the U.S. with more credits including Peterson, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge, Girls Of The Sun, Arab Blues and Extraction.

The actress was last at the Berlinale in 2009 as the lead actress in Asghar Farhadi’s drama About Elly, for which he won the Silver Bear for Best Director.

She later accused Farhadi of stopping her from walking the Berlinale’s red carpet with the rest of the film team due to the controversy she was facing back home over Body Of Lies.

The director has denied the accusations saying Farahani stood separately on the red carpet out of her own volution.

“I’m very happy to be here with you,” Farahani told Thursday’s press conference.

“I came here in 2009 and it was a very different year. It’s very symbolic to be in Berlin. Berlin is the city that broke the wall, the actual wall, towards equality, freedom, and brought so many people together,” she said.

“This year with Ukraine, with Iran and the earthquake, it feels like the whole world is disintegrating,” she said. “With everything that is happening in Iran, being back in Berlin after all these years, I’m happy that we can gather together and celebrate cinema, celebrate freedom, even though the world seems to be collapsing everywhere.”

The Berlin Film Festival’s international jury, presided over by actress Stewart, also features German director Valeska Grisebach, Romanian director Radu Jude, US casting director and producer Francine Maisler, Spanish director Carla Simón, and iconic Hong Kong director and producer Johnnie To.