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Not Just Films

Noted Iranian film director, screenwriter and film editor Jafar Panâhi (b. July 11, 1960), commonly associated with the Iranian New Wave Film Movement, once reportedly said that he “can’t do anything else, but make films, and doesn’t want to do anything else“.

In 1995, he directed his first film, The White Balloon, with a screenplay by Abbas Kiarostami. The story of seven-year-old girl Razieh going to purchase a goldfish on the eve of the Iranian New Year helped the director find his place in the hearts of film-lovers across the globe. The movie won the Prix de la Camera d’Or at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. People found another little girl in his 1997 film The Mirror. Mina, a first-grader, was seen trying to find her way home from school in the film. This film bagged the Golden Leopard award at Locarno International Film Festival. After making The Mirror, the film-maker brought a change to the subjects of his films.

Panâhi produced and directed The Circle in 2000 to portray the oppressive attitude of the Iranian society towards girls and women. Although Iran banned this film as it exposed the fanatical side of State Power, the film won several awards, including the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2000. Panâhi’s next film Crimson Gold (2003) was never distributed in Iranian theatres, because it was considered too “dark“. As it was not released in the West Asian nation, Crimson Gold was not considered as the Iranian entry for Best Foreign Language Film for the 2003 Oscars. However, it received Prix du Jury Award at the Cannes Film Festival.

After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iranian women were excluded from all sporting events and venues. The Government of Iran had argued that the presence of women in stadia might increase the incidents related to eve-teasing and sexual harassment. Panâhi’s daughter, too, was not allowed to enter the stadium. Panâhi made the film Offside in 2006 to protest against this gender-biased treatment by the State. This movie is about a group of girls, who tried to watch a World Cup qualifying match, but were forbidden by law because of their gender. As expected, the screening of this film was banned in Iran; however, it won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival (2006).

Since the creation of The Circle, the Iranian authorities arrested him several times for various reasons. In 2010, the Islamic Court sentenced him to six years in prison for spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic. The Judiciary further barred him not only from making films for the next 20 years, but also from writing scripts, and leaving the country to receive any international award. Although the State did not send him to prison, it upheld the rest of the sanctions against the director. At that time, Panâhi reportedly said: “If we could tell a film, then why make a film?

The film-maker took to this thought, and started spending time with director-producer Mojtaba Mirtahmasb in his apartment. Panâhi also clicked several images of his house arrest. He used to share his views about his films and the contemporary time with Mirtahmasb. Later, Mirtahmasb said that Panâhi preferred imprisonment, instead of surveillance. After being banned by the State, he, together with Mirtahmasb, made a 76-minute documentary, titled This Is Not a Film, on his own life. It was released on September 28, 2011 in France, distributed by Kanibal Films Distribution. The film was reportedly smuggled from Iran to Cannes on a flash drive, hidden inside a birthday cake. The documentary was specially screened at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, the New York Film Festival and the 27th Warsaw International Film Festival. It was also shortlisted for Oscars in Best Documentary Feature category.

Later, Panâhi secretly made films, like Closed Curtain (2013) and 3 Faces (2018). He also made Taxi in 2015. In this film, Panâhi, pretending to be a share taxi driver, travels across the country and hears from his passengers about their independent views on poverty, gender inequality, death penalty and various other issues. The film went on to get premiered in competition at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the Golden Bear and the FIPRESCI Prize.

The Iranian Police arrested Panâhi on July 11, 2022, yet again, for supporting the protests, relating to the death of 43 people, due to the collapse of the 10-storey Metropol building in the South-western Iranian city of Abadan on May 23. There, evidently, was considerable corruption by the Government officials behind the construction of the multi-storied building. In spite of the permission to constructing six floors, 10 floors were constructed. When people started staging protests against corruption, 70 film-makers, including Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Al-Ahmad, joined the protesters. Later, the State Police arrested both Rasoulof and Al-Ahmad for inciting social unrest. The Police arrested Panâhi, too, when he strongly condemned the detention of Rasoulof and Al-Ahmad. His wife Tahere Saeedi said that the concerned authorities used the six-year prison sentence, handed down to Panâhi in 2010, as an excuse for the arrest this time. She claimed that the Police virtually kidnapped her husband.

Jafar Panâhi

A totalitarian and undemocratic State suppresses protest in this manner. A creative person usually faces the ire of the State, if the language of her/his artworks becomes critical, sensitive, touchy, and against the Authority. It has happened not only in Iran, but also in many other countries. However, history has always punished people behind these unlawful rulers.

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