Hundreds of Iranian film-makers and actors are backing moderate Mir Hossein Mousavi against hard-line incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in next week's presidential election, media reported on Saturday.
A newspaper endorsement signed by more than 820 people included leading lights in Iran's entertainment industry such as award-winning directors Darioush Mehrjoui, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Abolfazl Jalili and Majid Majidi.
Several movie heavyweights have also appeared in a video posted on the Internet site YouTube, appealing to Iranians to vote for Mousavi, an architect and painter regarded among artists as one of their own.
"Anyone I have had contact with in these past four years has been hurt by the mismanagement ruling us," Mehrjoui said in the video.
The veteran director who made "Hamoon," the most popular Iranian film of all time, was hit by tough censorship under Ahmadinejad.
His last film "Music Man," which dealt with drug addiction, was banned from cinemas for unspecified reasons.
Mehrjoui has appealed to young voters to go out and vote for either Mousavi or Mehdi Karroubi, the reformist former parliament speaker who is also running for the presidency.
Makhmalbaf, who has been making films abroad in recent years, blamed vote boycotters in 2005 for Ahmadinejad's election.
Several actresses also appeared in the video wearing green wristbands -- Mousavi's campaign color.
Censorship reaches peak
For decades Iran has vetted artistic productions and publications before their release.
But the number of banned books and movies is said to have reached a record high under Ahmadinejad.
"In these four years censorship reached a peak. Vetting has created so many problems for publishers and put the private sector on the verge of bankruptcy," prominent publisher Amir Hossein-Zadegan told Etemad Melli newspaper.
Artists enjoyed a period of relative freedom during the 1997-2005 reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami, who came under fire from Islamic conservatives who accused his culture officials of promoting "decadence."
Ahmadinejad's government came to power with a pledge to revive revolutionary and Islamic values, and it appointed an editor of the hard-line daily Kayhan to head the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
In April 2008, amid complaints of arbitrary vetting and blurred red lines, Culture Minister Mohammad Hossein Safar Harandi urged writers to self-censor their books if they wanted to be published.
His ministry has banned scores of titles, including works by one of Iran's greatest authors, Sadegh Hedayat, and the latest novel by famed Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, "Memories of My Melancholy Whores."
Filmmakers have praised the government for building and restoring movie halls across the country and curbing the distribution of bootlegged DVDs which seriously damage box office sales.
But culture officials have also faced criticism in artistic circles for a proliferation of generic "spiritual" films and sugary comedies.