Filmmaker Jafar Panahi was sentenced to six years in Iranian prison in July, and has thus not been able to attend the festival rollout of his new feature, “No Bears.” His ninth narrative film premiered at the Venice, Toronto, London, and New York film festivals, but Panahi has remained incarcerated throughout its turn on the circuit after he inquired about the arrests of fellow filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Al-Ahmad amid a dire political moment for Iran.
“No Bears,” which Janus and Sideshow release stateside on December 23, finds Panahi playing a fictionalized version of himself pitted in a moment of crisis at a rural border town in Iran en route to direct a new feature in Turkey. On Friday, “No Bears” plays the Miami Film Festival where, ahead of the screening, Panahi will be honored with a Precious Gem Award. (Last year’s Precious Gem went to Oscar-winning “Drive My Car” director Ryusuke Hamaguchi.) IndieWire exclusively shares an audio message from Panahi, which he has sent from prison in Iran, that will be played in a virtual presentation prior to the Miami screening. Listen below.
“I thank all the people involved in the Miami Film Festival who considered me worthy of receiving this award. But I have dreams that go beyond all the awards in the world,” Panahi said. “I dream and have always dreamed that in the current situation my country is facing, I could be with my people and portray their struggle for freedom. I also wish that I could make films instead of receiving awards because a filmmaker lives to make films. Anyway, I hope a day will come when I can make a film, and attend your festival with it. And I’m hoping for the realization of all my people’s wishes.”
Per the Miami Film Festival, the Precious Gem Award is reserved for honoring the truly special stars of the art form, those one-of-a-kind artists whose contributions to cinema are lasting and unforgettable.
Panahi was detained by Iranian officials in July after going to Evin prison to inquire about the arrests of his fellow filmmakers. Rasoulof and Al-Ahmad posted statements on social media decrying recent government-sanctioned violence in response to protests in Abadan following the collapse of a building that killed more than 40 people. They were officially detained on charges of inciting unrest and remain incarcerated, according to reports.
Panahi, who won the Special Jury Prize in Venice for “No Bears” and previously won Best Screenplay at Cannes for 2018’s “Three Faces,” had asked about the conditions and hopeful release of Rasoulof. Once Panahi arrived at the prison, he was told by guards that he had an outstanding prison sentence dating back 10 years that barred him from making films, and he was arrested again.
Panahi’s six-year sentencing has been largely denounced by the film community. At the Venice Film Festival premiere of “No Bears,” an empty seat was left for Panahi at the press conference out of protest.
At the New York Film Festival screening of “No Bears, Panahi shared a statement via actress Mina Kavani about the September 16 killing of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman who died in police custody after being arrested for not properly wearing her hijab.