UPDATED: Jafar Panahi, the award-winning filmmaker (“The White Balloon,” “Crimson Gold,” “The Circle”) has been imprisoned for over a week now, and it’s time for the international and American film community to start to put on the pressure for his release. An online petition, for what it’s worth, is currently available for all to sign. Panahi is not the only cinema artist who has been detained, Mahmoud Rasoulof (“Iron Island”) has also been taken under arrest, without specific charges.
Over the years, I’ve had the chance to talk to Panahi and other Iranian filmmakers about the tricky business of navigating cinematic social protest under the Islamic Republic. (Here is a link to my most recent interview with Panahi in the Los Angeles Times.) It’s nothing unusual for Iranian filmmakers to be detained, harassed and banned from Iranian’s official film business (many have left the country, altogether, of course), but because of the increased pressures of last year’s protests, I, for one, am a little more nervous for Panahi’s well-being.
Fortunately, Abbas Kiarostami has now come forward with a letter asking for Panahi’s release. According to this New York Times blog, in an open letter published in a Tehran newspaper, Kiarostami wrote, “I wish for their immediate release from prison knowing that the impossible is possible. My heartfelt wish is that artists no longer be imprisoned in this country because of their art and that the independent and young Iranian cinema no longer faces obstacles, lack of support, attention and prejudice.”
Panahi knows he’s no friend of the regime, but because of his international recognition, there is the hope that he can keep working. As he told me once, “My movies are about limitations and restrictions, and these are restrictions that I’ve personally experienced.” But that hasn’t stopped him.
“Censorship has always existed in Iranian cinema,” Panahi said. “It’s a credit to the cleverness of the Iranian filmmakers, both before and after the revolution, that they still make their own movies.”
“I am a socially committed filmmaker, and I cannot be indifferent to what is happening around me,” he added.
The European Film Academy is encouraging its members to join a protest for Panahi’s release by sending personal letters to their respective Iranian embassies to express their condemnation of the filmmaker’s arrest.
I would hope American filmmakers would do the same.