This Monday in Tehran, Iranian filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mohammed Rassoulov received sentences condemning them to six years behind bars for producing propaganda against the system. The judgment also comes with a twenty year ban on filmmaking for Panahi. Panahi’s works include “The White Baloon” (1995), “The Circle” (2000), “Offside” (2006). Panahi’s films have garnered him wide acclaim and major awards at film festivals all over the world, including the Golden Lion at Venice and the Silver Bear at Berlin. The highly regarded director has been a target of Iran’s leadership recently for his public endorsement of an opponent of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in last year’s national elections and for his participation in the protests and other populist organizing that followed Ahmadinejad’s re-election. Members of the French film industry, including the Cannes Film Festival, have begun an online petition for a rescinding of the directors’ sentences. The petition can be found here.
Responding to the news, Berlinale Director Dieter Kosslick said, “We are very concerned and filled with indignation over the conviction of Jafar Panahi. It is shocking that a renowned director is punished so severely for his artistic work. Jafar Panahi can be sure he has our full support.” Kosslick and his colleagues had invited Panahi to serve on the jury for the 2011 edition of the Berlinale.
The Karlovy Vary Film Festival, which screened a retrospective tribute to Panahi for its 36th edition when he served on their jury, released a statement from its organizers, ““In our view, the verdict is a purely political act which seriously violates basic human rights, as well as the right of an artist to freely express ideas and the right to artistic self-realization inherent in freely perceiving the world. We are confident that the verdict will provoke the protests of the cultural public around the globe.”
The International Film Festival Rotterdam has hosted both Panahi and Rassoulof as filmmakers, producers, and jury members. In a statement from the festival, the organizers insisted, “The IFFR calls on the Iranian authorities to revise the sentence and pleads for the release of Panahi and Rassoulof as well as for cancellation of the ban on making films. It is unacceptable that the work of an important, humane and committed film maker like Panahi is subject to oppression. The IFFR hopes that protests will sound worldwide and calls on every cinephile to condemn this outrageous conviction.”