“My songs didn’t make me famous. The fatwa did.” When God Sleeps
unfolds against the backdrop of the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks in the Bataclan concert venue and European right-wing backlash against Middle-Eastern refugees. It deftly weaves the journey of exiled Iranian musician Shahin Najafi with historical context and intimate biographical detail, rooting the narrative in Najafi’s immediate and unavoidable reality, living under a fatwa issued against him by hardline Shiite clerics. As Najafi juggles a personal life and budding romance in Cologne, far from loved ones, with a professional career whose high profile may cost him his life, he spars with bandmates who are ambivalent about the peril his status places on their lives, and battles German police who refuse to see the death threat on his head as a legitimate danger. With camerawork that underlines the intimate aspect of this film, we bear witness to the life of an outspoken artist defying powerful men intent on silencing him.