2011 so far has been an extraordinary, tumultuous time in the Middle East. From the protests in Egypt that swept across the region, to the death last week of Osama Bin Laden, the floodgates seem to be opening for real change in a way reminiscent of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s set to be a messier transition — violence continues in Egypt, in Libya and in Bahrain, among others — but there’s plenty of reason for optimism. Unfortunately, one thing remains true in the Middle East: the governing forces of Iran are still an oppressive pack of c***s.
A list of their violations of human rights and decency would be nearly endless, but for our purposes here, the most relevant aspect is their oppression of artists in general, and filmmakers specifically. Despite an incredibly vibrant film scene, birthing internationally regarded directors like Abbas Kiarostami, filmmaking has become an increasingly dangerous profession, with two of the country’s leading lights, Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof being arrested last year, convicted of making “propaganda against the system” and sentenced to seven-year jail terms, as well as being banned from moviemaking for 20 years. The pair, responsible for films like “The Circle,” “Crimson Gold,” and “The White Meadows,” haven’t been cowed, however, as the Cannes Film Festival has announced that new work from both directors has been added at the last minute to this year’s line-up.
Both films seem to be responses to their current condition. Panahi’s picture, a documentary collaboration with a former assistant director, Mojitaba Mirtahmasb entitled “This Is Not A Film,” follows a day in Panahi’s life as he awaits the verdict of an appeal against his sentence, as well as painting a picture of what it is to be a filmmaker in Iran at present. Rasoulof’s film, entitled “Good Bye,” is in the Un Certain Regard section of the festival, and is a fictional feature, shot over the winter, about a young female lawyer’s attempt to obtain a visa to leave Iran.
Both films were seemingly shot “under semi-clandestine conditions,” but it’s clear that the directors aren’t afraid of the consequences: Panahi wrote to the festival on May 5th that, “The reality of being alive and the dream of keeping Iranian filmmaking intact have motivated us to overcome the restrictions that we are up against… Our problems are also our greatest resource. Understanding this promising paradox encourages us not to lose hope, and to continue on our path. The world will always have its problems, big and small; but it is our duty not to be defeated and to look for solutions.” Quite frankly, these guys are our heroes.
Panahi’s film will screen on the Croisette in a Special Screening as part of the Official Selection on May 20th, while Rasoulof’s will bow on May 14th, and we’d encourage anyone attending the festival to show their support for the pair by attending. And if you want to show your support from home, Amnesty International can help you out on that front. Hopefully, sense will prevail, and we’ll see much more output from both directors at festivals around the world in the years to come. [Festival de Cannes]