The Documentary About Persecuted Iranian Street Artists You Never Saw

Talking to the filmmakers behind 'Mutiny of Colors,' a documentary on the censorship and bravery of Iranian street artists.

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Nov 29 2015, 1:45pm

All images courtesy of the filmmakers.

For the Iranian government, Satanism and street art are synonymous: both illegal, both immoral. As with their fraught battle with Satanism, the country’s track record against Iran’s urban artists ranges from surveillance and accusations of “spreading Western culture,” to litigation and incarceration. Mutiny of Colors, an episodic documentary from Iranian filmmakers Zeinab Tabrizy and Paliz Khoshdel, chronicles this conflict.

The filmmakers follow five of Iran’s preeminent street artists, juxtaposing the country’s ongoing efforts against graffiti in four installments of on-the-ground footage and extensive interviews. In order of episodes, the film features CK1, one of Iran’s formative street artists, Omet, whose signatures are Persian typography and covert T-shirt designs, Icy & SoT, brothers and stencil experts, and finally, Lady Green, deemed by the filmmakers as one of the world’s "bravest female street artists."

Although street art is not technically included under the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance’s umbrella of censorship, the municipality ruthlessly and tirelessly condemns the practice. Police, intelligence officers, and other enforcers track down artists at work through CCTV cameras, speed to the scene to try and arrest the artist, and cover the fresh work with layers of gray paint. When Tabrizy and Khoshdel started filming in 2012, they faced an inevitable conundrum: How do you make a film about the illegal art without putting the lives of the artists at risk?

“The very first challenge was making street artists trust us enough to accept being filmed. Most of them were fearful of being recognized, which is why they were not ready to cooperate with us," Tabrizy explains to The Creators Project. "After long negotiations with them finally we could manage to [convince] five of them to appear in film by wearing a mask.” Worn throughout the film's interview segments, these “masks” are artful and customized—more superhero than anti-surveillance in their bright shades and ornamental designs.

When the artists' were in action, however, no such protections were possible. Prior to filming, Tabrizy and Khoshdel had applied for and received a license to film in Tehran. And yet, “Under no circumstances are street arts legal, especially to be filmed," Tabrizy explains. While Tabrizy and Khoshdel have blurred the artists' faces for the film, out on the streets, the filmmakers and their subjects faced more immediate dangers. "Of course, we were interrogated by police and intelligence service’s officers on some occasions," she continues. "[And at] each moment we were expecting the police to capture us." As it happens, they came very close to doing so. "One time while we were shooting the [gray dye] paintings by government, [and] one police car stopped and told us, [that] in order that our camera not to be seized, we would have to delete whole the film […] Another time, we were shooting and at the end, some officers came and told us they had been observing us about half an hour. They sent us away by seizing our ID cards, taking our phone numbers, and threatening to seize our camera." 

During the three years it took to make Mutiny of Colors, two of the film's featured figures were forced to flee the country, like countless Iranian street artists before them. Production and post-production threw more hurdles in Tabrizy and Khoshdel's path. "[We had a lot of difficulty in] funding our film, which unfortunately, no organization in Iran was ready to invest in, because basically no one is ready to produce such films,” the filmmaker continues. She speaks from experience: In 2010, Street Sultans, their first documentary on Iranian parkour players, lacked funding to get beyond Iran and was censored and discontinued by the government. 

Ultimately, with no reliable backers, “we decided to invest personally on the project,” Tabrizy says. When their personal budgets ran out, the duo launched a Kickstarter campaign, but it never made its goal. 

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