Iran: The film maker – the public enemy

2010/03/04

Published in the German daily newspaper “Tagesspiegel” on March 3 2010
Source (German): http://www.tagesspiegel.de/kultur/kino/Iran-Jafar-Panahi-Verhaftung;art137,3046404

Jafar Panahi, one of Iran’s most important independent film makers, was arrested in his house near Tehran Monday night. He and his wife, his daughter, and 15 guests were taken to an undisclosed location.

Picture: Jens Kalaene/dpa dpa


Among the guests were other film makers, directors, and actors. As reported by Panah Panahi, the son of the film director, on an opposition website, the agents in civilian clothing confiscated computers and personal belongings.

The 49-year-old director who won a Silver Bear for his film “Offside” in 2006 and the Golden Lion in Venice for “The Circle” in 2000, is a supporter of opposition leader Moussavi. He criticized the disputed result of the presidential election in the summer of 2009. Only in February, Panahi was barred from leaving the country to attend the Berlin Film Festival, where he had been invited as a guest of honor and a participant in a panel about the future of the Iranian cinema. For some time now he has been supervised by the Iranian authorities.

About the reasons for the arrest, Tehran’s prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi said that Panahi was not arrested for his work or for political reasons, but for being suspected of having “committed crimes”. He did not name further details.

Last summer, the Iranian-Canadian documentarian and reporter Maziar Bahari was held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison for 118 days. Whether the arrest of an internationally renowned director like Panahi and a group of dissidents is part of a well-proven method of intimidation – particularly since it happened in the run-up of the Persian New Year in March – or if a new dimension of repression has been reached, depends on whether Panahi and the others will be released soon. Panahi had been arrested before, when he on July 30 attended the mourning ceremony for the shot student Neda Agha Soltan. However, he was released only hours later. Since he, as a member of the jury at the film festival in Montréal, openly showed his support for the Iranian opposition by wearing a green scarf, he is no longer allowed to leave the country. He was also refused a permit to visit the film festival in Mumbai last October.

Jafar Panahi, who started as an assistant to Abbas Kiarostami, has a history with censorship. In 2004, he said the price for independent film making in Iran was that often one does not get to see one’s own films in an Iranian cinema.

When his film “Offside” was shown at the Berlinale in 2006 – a tragicomedy with political subtext about a girl who dresses up as a boy to be able to watch a soccer match in a stadium – he explained: “We have to use tricks in order to be able to shoot. For ‘Offside’ I registered a different film, with a different script and a different director. By the time the authorities found out about it, it was too late to stop the film.” “Offside” is Panahi’s last film so far – he has not been able to shoot since.

His colleague Rafi Pitts, who currently lives in Paris and whose contribution for the Berlinale, “Time of Wrath”, will be in the cinemas on 8. April, told the “Tagesspiegel”: “It is ridiculous to arrest film makers, artists, writers or journalists, who do nothing but look at their society and comment on what is happening. They do something constructive, nothing destructive. Our government must understand that they can not prevent anybody from raising their voices. No matter how hard they try, they will not succeed.”

Since Ahmadinejad took office in 2005, several directors deplore the worsening working conditions. That is why there is a growing number of underground film makers who work without a permit and face great risks. Furthermore, many directors have boycotted the official “Fajr” film festival in Tehran that took place in February.
chp (with Reuters, dpa)

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