With the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Manhattan today at the United Nations, a group of leading filmmakers have risen to the defense of one of their own after his arrest in March.
Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Robert Redford, Francis Ford Coppola, Terrence Malick, Steven Soderbergh, the Coen Bros., Jim Jarmusch, Michael Moore, Ang Lee, Robert De Niro, and Oliver Stone among others have called on the government of Iran to release director Jafar Panahi ("The White Balloon," "Offside") who was arrested at his home two months ago and is being held in the capital Tehran's notorious Evin prison.
Islamic Republic officials initially charged Mr. Panahi with "unspecified crimes." They have since reversed themselves, and the charges now allege that he was making a film against the regime, a very serious accusation in Iran. Panahi's films have not been allowed to screen in the Islamic Republic for the past decade and he's not been allowed to work for the past four years, though he continued to live in Iran.
"Mr. Panahi deeply loves his country," says Jamsheed Akrami, an Iranian-American film scholar and filmmaker, who helped organize the petition. "Even though he knows he could have opportunities to work freely outside of his homeland, he has repeatedly refused to leave. He would never do anything against the national interests of his country and his people."
Panahi has been honored at film festivals around the world, including the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival for "Offside" (2006), the Un Certain Regard Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for "Crimson Gold" (2003), the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for "The Circle" (2000), the Golden Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival for "The Mirror" (1997) and the Cannes Camera d'Or for "The White Balloon" (1995).
The full petition and list of signatories follows:
Jafar Panahi, the internationally acclaimed Iranian director of such award-winning films as "The White Balloon," "The Circle," "Crimson Gold" and "Offside," was arrested at his home on March 1st in a raid by plain-clothed security forces. He has been held since then in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.
A recent letter from Mr. Panahi's wife expressed her deep concerns about her husband's heart condition, and about his having been moved to a smaller cell. Mr. Panahi's films have been banned from screening in Iran for the past ten years and he has effectively been kept from working for the past four years. Last October, his passport was confiscated and he was banned from leaving the country. Upon his arrest, Islamic Republic officials initially charged Mr. Panahi with "unspecified crimes." They have since reversed themselves, and the charges are now specifically related to his work as a filmmaker.
We (the undersigned) stand in solidarity with a fellow filmmaker, condemn this detention, and strongly urge the Iranian government to release Mr. Panahi immediately.
Iran's contributions to international cinema have been rightfully heralded, and encouraged those of us outside the country to respect and cherish its people and their stories. Like artists everywhere, Iran's filmmakers should be celebrated, not censored, repressed, and imprisoned.
Paul Thomas Anderson
Joel & Ethan Coen
Francis Ford Coppola
Robert De Niro
Petition Organizing Committee: Jamsheed Akrami, Godfrey Cheshire, Jem Cohen, Kent Jones, Anthony Kaufman