Iranian Director Jafar Panahi Sentenced to Six Years in Prison, Banned From Making Films

I just felt compelled to share the following news article that I chanced upon, considering how I’ve also reviewed one of his past films “Crimson Gold“. This six-year sanction will definitely mark a huge setback on Panahi’s career and I really wonder how he will manage to bounce back from this hiatus from film. Yet this move would perhaps mark ten giant steps backward for the Iranian film industry. Such moves seem antediluvian at best, and with many countries the world over taking strides in free expression (Singapore included, given its relaxation of political film laws despite the underlying undertones) perhaps Iran will be left in the dust.

Yet on the other end of the spectrum there is also the plausible argument that the film medium need not touch on politics to be successful. With so many armchair vigilantes around operating under the guise of anonymity and recluse given the Internet era, would such films even be necessary anymore to raise public awareness of social or political ills? Going by this line – maybe Panahi really had it coming, straddling too near the grey lines.

So, what next? The film community may be incensed and the human rights groups angered. But ultimately what’s the point, given the inane troglodytism that obviously permeates the incumbent government?

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Source: The Hollywood Reporter | http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/iranian-director-jafar-panahi-sentenced-61918

The helmer was accused of making a film without official government sanction and inciting opposition protests.

Iranian director Jafar Panahi has been sentenced to six years in prison and banned from making films for the next 20 years, the U.K.’s Guardian reported.

Panahi had been accused of inciting opposition protests and making a film without official government sanction. On Monday, the director was convicted of colluding in the gathering and making of propaganda against the regime.

He also was banned from writing scripts, traveling abroad and giving media interviews, his lawyer said, adding that she plans to appeal the conviction.

Muhammad Rasoulof, a filmmaker arrested at the same time as Panahi, was also sentenced to six years in jail Monday.

Panahi drew the ire of Iranian authorities by backing an opposition candidate in last year’s presidential elections. When hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a second term as president, millions took to the streets in massive protest marches, which were violently broken up by the police.

The Iranian government arrested Panahi in March and he spent three months in prison, during which he went on a hunger strike. The film industry — including director such as Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Redford and Martin Scorsese — rallied to his support and called on Tehran to release him.

They did so, on bail of $200,000 a week, in May but Iranian officials prevented Panahi from leaving the country in September to attend the world premiere of his short film The Accordion at the Venice Film Festival.

Earlier this month, Panahi was invited to join the jury of the Berlin International Film Festival for its 2011 edition.

Panahi’s credits include Offside, which won Berlin’s Silver Bear in 2006, and The Circle, which nabbed the Gold Lion in Venice in 2000. He made his debut with The White Balloon, which nabbed the Festival de Cannes’ Camera d’Or in 1995.

 

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Crimson Gold (2003) طلای سرخ

Country: Iran
Language: Persian
Director: Jafar Panahi (written by Abbas Kiarostami)
Running Time: 95 minutes
Starring: Hossain Emadeddin, Kamyar Sheisi, Azita Rayeji, Shahram Vaziri, Ehsan Amani, Pourang Nakhael, Koveh Najmabadi, Saber Safael

Theme: Crime

Ratings: IMDb.com: 7.5/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: 86%

Film Festivals:
2003 Cannes Film Festival
(Un Certain Regard Section)
2003 Chicago International Film Festival
2004 Tbilisi International Film Festival
2003 Valladolid International Film Festival

Awards:
2003 Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard Jury Prize)
2003 Chicago International Film Festival: Gold Hugo for Best Film
2004 Tbilisi International Film Festival: Golden Prometheus  (Jafar Panahi)
2003 Valladolid International Film Festival: Golden Spike  (Jafar Panahi)

Crimson Gold (2003) is directed by Jafar Panahi, one of esteemed filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami’s protégés, and who has earned recognition from film theorists as well as won the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival (for The Circle (2000)) and Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival (for Offside (2006)). Considered one of the most influential filmmakers in the Iranian New Wave movement, he takes after Kiarostami in courting controversy in the movies he have been producing. This has spawned his sudden arrest in March this year, only to be released on bail in May as the Iranian government came under the close scrutiny of the international cinematic community. Acclaimed filmmakers like Abbas Kiarostami, Ang Lee, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, the Coen Brothers among others, as well as film societies and film festivals around the world were part of a petition movement trying to force the hand of the Iranian government into releasing Panahi, an arrest that has also been condemned by human rights organizations around the world. Cannes Best Actress Juliette Binoche also dedicated part of her award-winning speech for Kiarostami’s Certified Copy to drawing attention to Panahi’s plight. He currently still stands on trial, allegedly for “making a film against the regime and it was about the events that followed election”, according to Iran’s Culture Minister (AFP, 2010). But his wife has since denied claims that this was true.

Panahi’s style has been described as neorealist, and this is evident in Crimson Gold that explores humanitarian themes within Iranian cinema without sensationalizing the political and social messages. He embraces the “tension between documentary immediacy and a set of strictly defined formal parameters” amid “an overtly expressed anger at the restrictions that Iranian society imposes” (Wilson, 2006).

This is clearly evident in Crimson Gold. Albeit a crime film, it is not a sensational one that focuses on the violence, although its poster might semiotically depict otherwise given the image of a man pointing a gun to his own brain. The main character is Hussein who appears to be attempting to rob a jeweler shop in the opening scene. He shoots the Jeweler, and then takes his own life as well as the Jeweler sounds the alarm. Whether his intent was suicidal in the first place is up for contention, but the movie, executed in a flashback sequence with the execution in the first scene, is particularly affective as it goes through the travails of Hussein’s life – his psychological trauma of dealing with war experience, being on medication, and being ostracized and condescened upon in the throes of mainstream society due to his lower class status. This class struggle takes central theme throughout the entire movie, whether in Hussein striking a rapport with a fellow law enforcement officer of the same social status, or observing with chagrin the difference in policial treatment of the wealthy and the poor, an allegory of corruption that might not have fared well with the authorities.

The sociopolitical themes that run deep under the guise of a simple bank robbery are impossible to ignore, and provides a social commentary as to the social ills of contemporary Iranian society of the day. And the flurry of moviemakers from Iran hold a precious key at helping the international community unlock the increasing alienated state of Iran that is being placed on terrorism watch and accused of engaging in nuclear development in the Axis of Evil. We see a case study of brutal class realities, but which is banned in Iran itself supposedly for being too “dark” in portraying the themes of powerlessness in the face of an authoritarian society.

References

Agence France-Presse. (2010). Panahi arrested for making anti-regime film: minister. Retrieved October 26, 2010, from http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hgegozlEasjeFkmeza6Lm8o5VmGg

Willson, J. (2006, September 26). A mirror under the veil – and inside the stadium. Retrieved October 26, 2010, from http://www.theage.com.au/news/film/getting-kicks-in-iran/2006/09/25/1159036473351.html