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Iranian Director Ali Ahmadzadeh’s Critical Zone Bags Locarno Film Festival’s Top Prize

Date: 2023-08-16

Iranian Director Ali Ahmadzadeh’s Critical Zone Bags Locarno Film Festival’s Top Prize

The honour of the Locarno Film Festival’s Golden Leopard was awarded to Ali Ahmadzadeh, for his film Critical Zone. By: Theng Min Yee

Ahmadzadeh’s film Critical Zone had its world premiere in Locarno’s International Competition, bringing home the prestigious Golden Leopard award. Sponsored by the City of Locarno, the award for best film includes a cash prize of CHF75,000 to be shared equally between the film’s director and producer. Jury president Lambert Wilson stated that it was a unanimous decision to award the film.

Secretly shot on the streets of Tehran without official permission, the Iranian-German co-production follows a man driving through Tehran’s underworld with his dog, dealing with drugs, healing troubled souls, and discovering the seeds of resistance.

Having been prevented from travelling to Locarno to present his film in person, Director Ahmadzadeh faced pressure from Iranian authorities to withdraw his film from the competition, ahead of the festival. Additionally, he was under investigation by Iran’s security ministry.

Jury president Lambert Wilson described Ahmadzadeh’s work: “A film that is as immersive and defiant as it is compassionate and tender. With inventive and disciplined photography and sound design, the director draws authentic and audacious performances in spite of an oppressive and dangerous reality. This film is a 99-minute scream in the name of rebellion and freedom.”

Speaking via a weblink from Tehran after the awards ceremony, Ahmadzadeh expressed that he was, “Extremely happy,” about the exposure and attention that the film would receive in the wake of its big win.

Ahmadzadeh said: “Even this interview [with Mauro Donzelli of Locarno Daily] could be risky for me, but, at the same time, I know that this recognition and the award that the film won is very important for underground cinema in Iran. It can give hope, courage, and support for other filmmakers to come and people who need this support to move on. International attention and recognition is extremely precious for all of us.”

Ahmadzadeh made his feature debut in 2013 with Kami’s Party, followed by Atomic Heart which premiered in Berlin in 2014 and 2017’s Phenomenon (Padideh). His films depicting rebellious youth and their confrontation with Iran’s theocracy have consistently been banned in the country.

This is the third time in the festival’s history that the top award has gone to an Iranian filmmaker following Ebrahim Fourouzesh in 1994 for The Jar, and Jafar Panahi two years later in 1996 with The Mirror.

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