Berlinale film stars show solidarity with Iran protesters

By James Imam

BERLIN (Reuters) - Dozens of actors and filmmakers gathered on the Berlinale's red carpet on Saturday to show solidarity with anti-government protesters in Iran, with one exiled Iranian film director predicting the imminent fall of the country's government.

"The regime's time is over," Sepideh Farsi told Reuters on the red carpet. "It's time for change – I think people really grasp that."

Some of those present at the demonstration – including Farsi, whose animation film "The Siren" opened on Thursday, and the award-winning director Farzad Pak – held up placards emblazoned with the Kurdish revolutionary slogan "Jin, Jîyan, Azadî" (Woman, Life, Freedom).

Others made victory signs or chanted the slogan as they punched the air with their hands.

The demonstration in Berlin came after protests flared up overnight on Thursday in Iran, with streets in a number of cities filling with people demanding the overthrow of the Islamic Republic.

The Berlinale has this year boycotted Iranian film institutions but is showing a number of films by independent directors from the country, with Iran's quest for freedom one of this year's main themes.

Banning Iranian institutions sent "a very strong signal," Farsi added. "Iranian institutions have always been here; their absence opens the place for other independent institutions."

Other Iranian films on show this year include Mehran Tamadon's "Where God is Not" and "And, Towards Happy Alleys", Indian filmmaker Sreemoyee Singh's poetic postcard to the country.

The demonstration followed a panel discussion exploring the role of the arts in the protests, during which Pak described the government as a "totalitarian regime where self expression is not allowed".

Iranian director Jafar Panahi, who has been critical of the government, was arrested in Iran in July for apparently supporting anti-government demonstrations. He was released on bail earlier this month.

At the time, Berlinale directors Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian called the arrest of Panahi, a former winner of the festival's prestigious Golden Bear award, "a violation of freedom of expression".

(Reporting by James Imam; editing by Matthias Williams and Alexandra Hudson)