In 2012, the United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on Iran. These sanctions on the banking sector effectively hindered the import of medicine to the country. As a result, the fate of six million Iranian patients suffering from special diseases such as cancer, thalassemia, hemophilia, hepatitis, multiple sclerosis, diabetes etc. have been put at stake. Over the past two years, a silent war has been waged on the Iranian people as the country has faced the toughest, most comprehensive US-led sanctions to date. The sanctions target Iran’s oil exports, shipping, airlines, petrochemical and automotive industries, banking system and currency, which means they target the people. Medical patients and their families, however, have had more to be concerned about because of significant shortages of medicines. In this movie we will see how the sanctions and shortage of medicine affected the life of one of Iran’s renowned artists.
TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00
November, 16. It was before noon. I had woken up. I could see the light behind the window. I could hear the sound of rain. And my soul was in high relief.
How beautiful would be life at the time when the four portals of existence are opened once more for another day and you realize that you are awake.
Like other parts of the world, in Iran there’s a day called Father’s Day. On this day, children usually see their fathers to celebrate the day. And I, out of annual habit, have bought flowers for my father and I’m going to see him.
These days I’m thinking a lot about being alive and living.
My name is Mahmoud. And my family name is Ostad Mohammad. I don’t know why I was drawn to the theateror howbut I know it was not my plan. Before I knew, I found myself in Bizhan Mofid’s group practicing theatre.
My father, Mahmoud Ostad Mohammad, a playwright and stage director worked in the Iranian theater for years. Many of his plays have been published so far. As a director, he directed many plays, most of them written by himself. From time to time ,he appeared on stage as an actor. A collection of his writings he had published in recent years in different papers is due to be out soon.
Mahmoud Ostad Mohammad :
I wrote and directed “Aseyyed Kazem”. I wrote “Decius” for Ayat Film. “Aseyyed Kazem” was the first genuine religious play.
My best childhood memories are those moments with my father because he played with me all the time and he was my playmate. His inner child was always with him. I grew up and left childhood behind but my father still kept his inner child with him to the last.
TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00
Mahmoud Ostad Mohammad :
In our theatre, a play is successful if the audiences clap in approval. That’s while in the history of world theatre from Chekov to Beckett there had been plays in their premieres the audiences threw tomatoes at the cast but those very plays changed the foundation of world theatre. The cast left the stage with rotten tomatoes on them. But Chekov changed the foundation of the theatre in the 20th century.
Soorosh Sehhat, Actor:
Stage is like a horse .A white, recalcitrant horse knows its rider. If the one who wants to mount it is a rider, the horse gives him a ride; otherwise, it throws him on the first trot. You were an actor as long as stage gave you a ride. As you stepped on stage, it would gallop, trample and fly. You kept a tight rein on it. Whatever direction you rode you had stage under control. The stage and the actor are like the horse and the rider. They closely resemble each other. There’s just a small difference; the actor grows old but the stage never gets old. On the contrary, it gets younger day by day. This 3000-year-old bride has become younger than its early days. For 3,000 years the most recalcitrant young people have been casting all their youthful energy before the stage. Why should it grow old?! The stage is like time; it likes the young. Blessed are those who believe this secret easily. It was anexcerpt from play “Seyyed Delbar” by Mahmoud Ostad Mohammad.
Conversation in theater:
- Can I take a photo of you?
- Assume a pose. Assume a pose.
- I’ve assumed a pose.
- Now … now … chhk.
- Oh …
- Sir, can I take a photo with you?
- With me?!
- Yes, why not?
- Sir, take a photo of us, please.
- I’m going to take a photo with big-bellied Ali.
- Ali, don’t puff!
- I’d like to handsome in the photo.
- OK, don’t puff a lot.
- The more you puff, the more you’ll be handsome.
- OK, go on.
My father was a pearl by nature; perchance from the clan of sea blues. My father was brimming with life. No, my father was life itself.
A traveler’s luggage is the feelings of those who see him off; one who holds the Quran up; one who light a lantern with the water he pour behind the departing traveler; and one who stands at the door and wears a fake smile but in fact prays for you to have a safe journey. Your praying hands be with me! Mahmoud Ostad Mohammad, July 2013.
TIME CODE : 10:00_15:00
This year is the first year I celebrate Father’s Day here. Every year, I used to go to my father’s on Father’s Day. I feel sorry to be here though I never feel that I’m at his grave or that he is dead. We’ve called this place father’s flowerbed because my father was very interested in flowers and plants so we designed his gravestone like a flowerbed.
Mahmoud Ostad Mohammad:
I’d like to laugh and I’m looking for laughs a lot. Of course these are my feelings at this stage of my life that whenever I pay full attention to life I cannot help laughing at it. Life is the most comic phenomenon.
These days I’m searching for the clue to my existence in every nook and cranny of his house. Every day I make a bed nobody has slept in for nights. I tidy his desk and when the next day I go to his house I find everything in its place. I go to the flowerbeds; I transplant the coleuses; I fastena thread for the ipomoeas. I stroke the sensitive plants but I cannot find the clue to my existence. Father is not there. The house is empty.
My name is Farhad Sufi, a friend of Mahmoud. God rest his soul! We’re in the artists’ piece in Behesht-e Zahra Cemeteryright at Mahmoud’s grave .It was about nine months ago when he departed this life. Good old days! We were friends since we were five or six. As we grew up we did artistic activities.
Conversation in theater:
- Whatever happens put the blame on me!
- Get up, Ali!Ali, get up and go!
- He’s bringing in the coffee.
- Is there a cemetery in Gorgochal?
- Take a seat.
- Look, buddy! This poor guy is a stranger here. If he’s left here alone, he’ll die.
- If he talks, we’ll suffer a loss of face, Fereidoun.
- What shall I do?
- We won’t be able to look the Greeks or the Arabs in the face any longer.
- We’ll be humiliated in front of all foreign nationals.
- No matter!
- Well, can we find the guy tonight?
- What shall I tell him about last night?
- Excuse him in one way or another.
- Shall I excuse him?!
- Shall I excuse him?!
- Excuse him on my behalf.
- Fereidoun! Excuse him on my behalf.
My father, Mahmous Ostad Mohammad wrote “Divan Theatre Al”, a hilarious play distinct from his other plays in 2001. It was a musical. In 2005, he wrote “Tahran”, a play about the time he was in Bandar Abbas. The last play was “Café McAdam”, which I think was a travelogue about his immigration to Canada. After that, it was all illness and pain and a wish to finish the incomplete works.
TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00
Mr. Ostad Mohammad spent his life in the theater. It demands self-sacrifice to dedicate your life to the theatre; it’s a suffering. In fact, nothing but love for the theatre can keep a person in the theatre. I myself started from the theatre and then shifted to radio, TV and cinema. I know that those who remain in the theatre go through a lot of pain and suffering.
Aside from being my father, I knew Mahmoud Ostad Mohammad personally and lived with him and I knew that he was a fountain of information and how important he could be. I saw him dying and I was the only one who had to take care of him. Aside from taking care of my father, now that I’m thinking it breaks my heart to see that Mahmoud Ostad Mohammad isn’t alive anymore because I knew him and knew that how important his existence was.
Mahmoud Ostad Mohammad :
An actor, first of all, has to appreciate the significance of art before appearing on stage. That’s why Mr. Abbas Javanmard used to say, “Though such and such a person has become a good actor he is still unaware of the significance of art.” And we found out in reality that a person who didn’t appreciate the significance of art and appeared on stage destroyed himself and the theatre.
I’m awed that Mr. Ostad Mohammad remained in the theatre and despite the problems – he could shift to TV or cinema – and lately despite the disease he still stayed in touch with the theatre and those involved in it. This costly disease was the last straw.
He had liver cancer and the main medicine prescribed for him was a pill called Nexavar. Its generic name is Sorafenib. He had to take four of the pills as daily dose.
Here the point is how we can afford the money. Even if a person with a relatively good life contracts this disease, he cannot survive it because it’s too costly. Aside from the money, the problem is where we must procure the medicine.
From Naser Khosrow, without knowing about the conditions the medicines were kept under. Only because the appearance of the medicines was like the one we used to get from public pharmacies we had to trust and buy them. Half a loaf is better than none. That was the justification.
TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00
- Do you know how much a Nexavar pill costs? A Nexavar pill?
- Nexavar! Do you know the price?
- Do you have a sample to show me?
- Do you know Nexavar pills? Nexavar.
- Hello sir, where will you arrive to call you again for Nexavar pills?
The price is between eight and nine in public pharmacies. In pharmacies not here.
- Nine million!
- Hold on!
- Well! When will you tell me the exact price? In public pharmacies, the price is between eight and nine million tomans. The price he said was between four to fine million tomans.
- You mean here the price is less than in pharmacies?
- Is that possible?!
- Yeah, go ask the price.
The pill each cost 63,000 tomans - and my father had to take four pills each day - and we had to buy it 100,000 tomans. In other words, he had to pay 400,000 tomans a day and 12 million tomans a months for the pills. Besides the pills, we had to buy an ampoule every month and pay for the cost of hospitalization, and the suchlike.
My son has been suffering from blood and bone marrow cancer for three years. I’ve procured the ampoules he needs for 10 to 12 million tomans. This is the price I pay for the treatment of his marrow bone cancer.
Bijan Nobaveh, Iranian Mp:
This is an eye drops bottle which is worthless. If I don’t put the drop in my eyes, my eyes get dry and I go blind. What’s it worth?! They have imposed sanctions on even these eye drops. Their denial of imposing sanctions is not true. They have imposed sanctions on medicine. They have imposed sanctions even on the raw materials for making important medicines for cancer, MS, hemophilia, and suchlike.
Ajmal Akbari :
My name is. I come from Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. I come here once a year to take medicine to Afghanistan because in Afghanistan there is no medicine for factor VIII deficiency. After the EU sanctions there has been a drug shortage in Tehran too. Yesterday I went to the central clinic and was told that there was no medicine at all. They injected a drug into me and said that there was no more. There’s a drug shortage as a result of the sanctions.
Bijan Nobaveh, Iranian Mp:
I think Western countries -especially those that cooperated with the Americans in the sanctions which basically began from the US, a country which considers itself as the champion of human rights -must be responsible for some problems caused in the country. I personally had cancer blood and underwent a BMT or bone marrow transplant in Iran. The medicine for this operation is unavoidable; no patient can survive without it and I’ve seen many young people and small children who have lost their lives as a result of these problems. I think that the Western world must be responsible for this issue.
I have a friend working in the theatre whose son died from the disease. The problem was partially about the expenses. Mr. Naderi’s son .It was also partially about the patient himself who had to obtain the medicine on the black market. The third part of the problem which is the most tragic one is that everyone will find out that the patient is in desperate need of money. A person who has tried to live with dignity and keep up appearances all his life now his need has to be publicized. Maybe he doesn’t agree but his friends would publicize it. For an artist this is a very tough moment.
Look! More than being political, this is a social issue; an issue that people are grappling with.
We would obtain the drugs with a high price as I told you. We were discontent with the current situation that why the drugs for cancer had to be so expensive and why the insurance didn’t cover them. We were involved in such problems until I went to 13 Aban Pharmacy to get the drugs my father needed during the New Year’s holidays. I found the pharmacy unusually overcrowded. Police was there also. It was very unusual. Anyway, I got to the pharmacy with difficulty. The pharmacy didn’t have the drugs. The Red Crescent didn’t have either. The Pharmacy for Rare Diseases didn’t have either
TIME CODE: 25:00_30:00
At that time, I saw an interview with Ms. Dastgerdi and understood what had happened. It seemed that as far as she was the Minister of Health she could import the drugs by circumventing the sanctions in ways she explained and I don’t remember to say.
Marziyeh Vahid Dastgerdi:
When they didn’t sell drugs or vaccines to us we had to circumvent the sanctions. For some vaccines ,we had to negotiate with a certain country to ask for the vaccines on its own behalf and even import the vaccines and then we imported them to our own country in some way or another. By the same token, we procured Liquid Helium necessary for MRI equipment. In the same way we obtained some cancer drugs. We worked through unofficial ways and with those ready to cooperate with usmainly for good intentions or for personal interests. We did it out of necessity and need because medicine is necessary for health. When a person has a heart disease, when a person has a lung disease, when a person has cancer, when a person has diabetes, he will die from the disease he has if he doesn’t take medicine.
Basically I believe that sanctions with any definition given by Westerners are inhumane. I think sanctions are a war without rules. When we are involved in a war, the rules of that war are defined; there are rules and regulations for it. They say that civilians are immune; they say women and children are immune. But as for sanctions, there is no limit. That’s why we firmly believe that world theoreticians, organizations like the UN and those who determine legal lines for the world must pass laws for that; how must people be immune from the wars between politicians? How must people be immune from inhumane attacks?
Paving the way for people to directly inform politicians and statesmen of their own protests is nothing new in history. It has been since centuries ago, especially when art passed modernity, artistic movements titled towards social activities and tried to pave the way for social activities and public protests.
Sanctions, I think, target at the basis of public health and what guarantees the health of human resources in a country to deprive that country of having healthy human resources.
In my opinion, we must be honest with our people and the world; sanctions have been to the detriment of our people; sanctions have put pressure on us but sanctions will not bring us to our knees. This is our message to the world. Sanctions cannot subdue us but sanctions put obstacles in our way.
Ahmad Ghavidel :
If you visit the website of U.S. Department of the Treasury, when we were under the most severe medical sanctions, U.S. Department of the Treasury put a crystal clear announcement on its website saying that sanctions didn’t include medicine and food but they never explained to their people that medicine is a commodity; commodities must be traded and there must be a way to pay for the commodities to get them inside a country. When they imposed sanctions on our banks in fact they put obstacles in every way of buying food and medicine.
Since two or three years ago when the sanctions became more severe and bank sanctions were imposed we gradually became unable to use LCs. We had to pay companies in cash in the first stage and it demanded a high level of liquidity for the companies. All of a sudden, we had to pay from ten percent to 100 percent and then to 135 percent. After the bank sanctions, transferring cash abroad faced many sever problems.
TIME CODE : 30:00_35:00
I had to find a middleman who imported medicine from Turkey illegally. It was an illegal act. We had to pay him and he imported from Turkey our medicine along with toiletries and suchlike. Meanwhile, something happened that delayed the delivery of the medicine. We didn’t get the medicine from Turkey the date we were expecting and my father had no medicine to take for about 28 days.
An actor whom everyone likes to talk when he is in the streets or the theatre … it’s a strange and hard feeling. There are people who reach this level of need and are prepared to suffer and hide their diseases. Right now, there are people who are ill but hide their illness because they don’t like that image to be broken.
That period of 28 days disturbed the whole process of his treatment. What the physician had done in two years didn’t pay off. There is a protein called in medical jargon Alpha-fetoprotein and in people not suffering from cancer its level is under ten. When my father was taking medicine the level of the protein was around 300 but during the month he had no medicine to take the number went up to 18,000 and seemingly the cancer had spread through his body and we couldn’t help it anymore.
TIME CODE : 35:00_40:00
In an interview with Le Monde last year I stated clearly that due to the bank sanctions and the problems in transferring money between Iran and the West medicines have also been affected by sanctions; they have become expensive and it’s difficult to get them and many are dying on hospital beds. In the interview with Le Monde I said that it was unfair and against what was claimed. With the help of my friends working in the fields of culture, literature and art I sent a mail to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. It was covered by the Western media. A big event hasn’t occurred yet.
Nothing! We were left with the medicines we had imported from Turkey with difficulty and my father passed away.
One cannot do all those things and then in the New Year Obama appears on US TV and reads Hafiz for us. It doesn’t add up. What do Hafiz’s poems have to do with Obama’s policies?! They have nothing to do with each other. I personally followed the issue a lot. Those Iranians who are living in the US and Europe are also doubtful about the issue. I’ve read their writings that how it is possible for Obama to read Hafiz and say “Salam” to us and then put pressure on our children, women, the elderly and human resources.
If the UN and UNICEF and other organizations really consider themselves obliged, they must come and see. The statistics are available in Iran. The West committed the crime against our country and I’d like to tell them that whenever you want to talk about human rights or good relations with our country you must know that all these issues will remain in our minds.
I really liked Ashton herself to hear these words. Look, Ms. Ashton! We had women with coagulation disorders. They needed the medicine. Their bleeding is natural. It has nothing to do with prevention or politics. It’s a natural phenomenon in women. When there is a drug shortage, menstrual periods for women with coagulation disorders can extend to 15 to 20 days which would harm them and their reproduction mechanism. The question is why.
Bijan Nobaveh, MP:
According to the Geneva Conventions even in wars the enemy is not allowed to abuse or hit medical teams. This is the Geneva Conventions. Where is it mentioned that a country is allowed to impose sanctions on people’s lives? They were not economic sanctions; they were in fact life sanctions on our people. Sad to say, the self-proclaimed champions of human rights including the US and European countries that voice concern over human rights all the time and have a three-hour live coverage of a dog in a river in the US to show that it’s drowning in the flood don’t know that thousands of people in our country including women, children, the young and the old passed away for cruel sanctions against us.
No one can be indifferent to a great flood in India; no one can be indifferent to the 2003 Bam earthquake. Even from the US, people had come to help; from Japan, France. So, there is a criterion in the world which place importance on human and humanity.
We go like lightning; we fall down like autumn leaves on a ground that we had no share of it; on a cold, black soil that we will rest in when we are dead though it didn’t provide us a resting place when we were alive; we go; we fly away; we sit on the wings of the wind; like a sigh, like the waves of regret we pass through the lips of a helpless child; we go season by season.
A sick man:
Yes, hello .Are you fine, Lowla? Yes, I’m fine. I’m … yes, I’m in the Iranian Society of Hemophiliacs. I went to the hospital today. Dr. Mortazavi told me to see him on Wednesday. To this moment, there is no medicine for factor VIII deficiency. They don’t give the medicine to Iran. Pray for sanctions to be lifted and then I’ll bring you the medicine. For the operation on my leg, doctor says that 100 medicines are needed. I have no access to the medicine. Now I’m in Iran which is under sanctions.
TIME CODE : 40:00_48:00
We go season by season, home by home.
The UN itself has incorporated in its announcements that sanctions on medicine and food is not allowed at all. In other words, member states of the UN and WHO have accepted the principles of these two organizations by their membership and therefore they must not impose sanctions on food and medicine.
Medicine is a science-based commodity and in fact it is the science that set the price of a medicine. Big, multinational corporations in the world are looking for new molecules and take out a patent on them to prevent other countries from producing them in a specific period of time and therefore set a certain price for them. And we have to use those medicines.
The idea of the Popular Protest against Drug Sanctions was born out of people’s talks and protests and experiences about the problems in the streets, among friends or at work in recent years. It can be said that it is a social duty of all artists to deal with the topics in their own societies. The idea developed from there and we insisted that it had to be popular without being under the auspicious of any state organizations and to continue the project in a popular way.
Mahmoud has paid a price for himself. Society has also paid a price for him.An artist is like a flower that grows up and blooms. Now, when shall I smell it and enjoy the fragrance? Why is the fragrance banned? Even plants need medicine let alone human beings. Then I become sick and hospitalized without being able to buy medicine because it’s too expensive. If the medicines were affordable – I’m not a physician- Mahmoud could live for two more years.
For me, sanction was a word like other words, like war, peace, sanction, political disputes. It was very ordinary and could happen to everyone. But since it entered our life and turned it upside down it’s not that ordinary word anymore like other words.
When such a thing happens that a person like Mr. Ostad Mohammad spends his last days with such pain and suffering we feel sorrier and suffer more.
Conversation in Theater:
- Something happened?
- Don’t you know?
- Has he committed suicide?
- Even worse!
- Even worse?
- Even worse!
- He has bought a dog. It’s disgraceful.
- The shape of your shoulder tips makes my heart throb. Look, it’s still throbbing. It’s throbbing even with my hand off it.
- Are you talking to yourself?
- No, I’m talking to you, sweetie pie.
Tonight, we’d like to dedicate our performance to two dears: The first one, an excellent playwright, an actor, a person whose memory will live on and his daughter is here to night honoring us with her presence: Mr. Mahmoud Ostad Mohammad.
Pills, pills, nexavar pills. I’m fed up with it. I’m not going to make a call for getting my pills but I cannot convince Mana. She’s a bundle of nerves. I don’t know how the guys around me find out; as I run out of the pills the calls begin. What shall I do with them? I wish I was alone. If I was alone, I knew well what to do. I think I’d better refuse taking the pills. I guess the anxiety over getting the pills or not would have a worse effect than even not taking them. If I don’t take them, if I say that I’m not going to use the pills it’s better. At least, I’ll live the rest of my life with relief. It’s a shame to beg for a longer life, for a few weeks or even a few days more. I feel kind of dishonored ;at least I think so. What’s the big deal? How much a person must be belittled to survive?! Enough is enough! There’s a game playing around me and I without knowing or intending have been involved in it. Struggling to survive. How comfortable these zebras, stags and deer are! Where is death ?when a crocodile opens its mouth and sinks its teeth into the neck and throat of a young zebra.The end.