Reverse Shot: . . . All of your films in some way come back to this theme of social limitations, whether they happen to be gender or class. Your characters have to keep negotiating this idea of the limits that are placed upon them. I wonder, with that in mind: Would you consider yourself to be an activist filmmaker?
Jafar Panahi: No, on the contrary, I see myself as a socially committed filmmaker, not someone with a political agenda. I’m well aware that all our social problems are somewhat politically related, and they come from political problems within the country, but I don’t want that to affect my movies and therefore I don’t make political movies. Because I realize that when you make a political movie, it’s like you’re putting an expiration date on it. And making a great political movie puts a distance between me and cinema, and forces me to give up the sort of power that I’d like to discuss. I’m interested in the humanistic outlook. To protect that, and to protect that in my movies. That’s why you don’t see people who are entirely evil or people who are like angels, really good or really bad people in my movies. And even when you have a person coming from a military background, they’ll have a human quality.
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These words are taken from Chris Wisniewski’s 2006 Reverse Shot interview with Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who, as the serious film world (and, we hope, the world) knows, has been imprisoned in Tehran by the Iranian government for months under vague, untenable accusations (for working on an unproduced “antiregime film”). Last week, Panahi began a hunger strike that he said would continue until his demands were met—which included the right to communicate with his family and a lawyer. It has been reported in the New York Times that Panahi has been granted a hearing. The world is a better place with his art in it, so Reverse Shot prays for Panahi’s health and wishes for his swift release. We pay tribute to this brilliant artist by remembering our last contact with him in this revealing interview.