As the Iranian government cracks down on filmmakers and other artists who use their voices to criticize it, few have paid a steeper price than Jafar Panahi. The “Taxi” and “3 Faces” director was recently sentenced to six years in prison due to his inquiries about the arrests of fellow filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Al-Ahmad.
The sentence, which most of the international film community has denounced as unjust, has temporarily prevented the auteur from making more films. But that hasn’t stopped him from having a presence on the fall festival circuit. His latest work, “No Bears,” recently premiered to strong reviews at the Venice International Film Festival. In Panahi’s trademark style, the film mixes fact and fiction as it documents his attempts to work as a filmmaker while essentially exiled from his own country. Panahi was honored in Venice, and an empty seat was left open for him at the press conference in a small act of protest.
The tragic circumstances cast a dark shadow over the film’s U.S. premiere at the New York Film Festival on Sunday night. But despite being unable to attend due to his imprisonment, Panahi found a way to make his presence felt at the festival. Prior to the screening of “No Bears,” the film’s lead actress, Mina Kavani, appeared onstage to deliver a statement from the filmmaker.
The full statement from Panahi reads: “We are filmmakers. We are part of Iranian cinema. For us, to live is to create. We create works that are not commissioned. Therefore, those in power see us as criminals. Independent cinema reflects its own times. It draws inspiration from society. And cannot be indifferent to it. The history of Iranian cinema witnesses the constant and active presence of independent directors who have struggled to push back censorship and to ensure the survival of this art. While on this path, some were banned from making films, others were forced into exile or reduced to isolation. And yet, the hope of creating again is a reason for existence. No matter where, when, or under what circumstances, an independent filmmaker is either creating or thinking about creation. We are filmmakers, independent ones.”
Watch Kavani share the statement at NYFF below. Her message also invoked protest of the killing of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman who died in police custody on September 16 after being arrested for not properly wearing her hijab. Industry luminaries from Juliette Binoche to Marion Cotillard have widely condemned the killing.
“No Bears” will be released later this year by Sideshow/Janus.