Demand Jafar Panahi's Freedom

Filmmaker Jafar Panahi has been sentenced to six years in prison, and twenty years without making films, contact with the press, or travel. Another filmmaker, Mohammad Rassoulov, has been likewise sentenced to six years in prison. They are both in Iran and sentenced by the court there. Artists and citizens everywhere must do all they can to prevent this attack on artistic freedom. The Cannes Film Festival and other organizations have started this petition that all should sign as soon as possible.

We Must Defend The Rights Of Artists Everywhere: Jafar Panahi’s Defense

Last week Iranian Filmamaker Jafar Panahi had his trial in Teheran.  He has not been allowed to make a film in five years.  This post is Jafar Panahi’s defense, his closing remarks,  presented to the court of Iran. Your Honor, I would like to present t my defense in two parts.

Part 1:  What they say

In the past few days I have been watching my favorite films again, though I did not have access to some of them, which are among the greatest films of the history of cinema. My house was raided on the night of March 1st, 2010 while my colleague Mr. Rasoulof and I were in the process of shooting what we intended to be a socially conscious art house film. The people, who identified themselves as agents of the Ministry of Intelligence, arrested us along with other crew members without presenting any warrants. They confiscated my collection of films as well and never returned them to me.  Subsequently, the only reference made to those films was by the prosecutor in charge of my case, who asked me: "What are these obscene films you’re collecting?"

I have learned how to make films inspired by those outstanding films that the prosecutor deemed obscene. Believe me I have just as much difficulty understanding how they could be called obscene as I do comprehending how the activity for which I was arrested could be seen as a crime? My case is a perfect example of being punished before committing a crime. You are putting me on trial for making a film that at the time of our arrest was only thirty per cent shot.  You must have heard that the famous creed "There is no god, except Allah”, turns into blasphemy if you only say the first part and omit the second part.  In the same vain, how can you establish that a crime has been committed by looking at 30% of rushes for a film that have not been edited yet?

I do not comprehend the charge of obscenity directed at the classics of the film history, nor do I understand the crime I am accused of.  If these charges are true, you are putting not only us on trial but the socially conscious, humanistic, and artistic Iranian cinema as well, a cinema which tries to stay beyond good and evil, a cinema that does not judge nor surrender to power or money but tries to honestly reflect a realistic image of the society.

One of the charges against me is attempting to encourage demonstrations and incite protests with this film.  All through my career I have emphasized that I am a socially committed filmmaker not a political one.  My main concerns are social issues; therefore my films are social dramas not political statements. I never wanted to act as a judge or a prosecutor. I am not a film maker who judges but one that invites other to see. I don’t get to decide for others or to write any kind of manual for any body; please allow me to repeat my pretension to place my cinema beyond good and evil.  This kind of belief has caused my colleagues and my self a lot of trouble; many of my films have been banned, along with the films of other filmmakers like me.  But it is unprecedented in Iranian cinema to arrest and imprison a filmmaker for making a film, and harass his family while he is in prison. This is a new development in the history of Iranian cinema that will be remembered for a long time.

I have been accused of participating in demonstrations. No Iranian filmmaker was allowed to use his camera to capture the events but you can not forbid an artist to observe! As an artist it is my responsibility to observes in order to get inspired and create.  I was an observer, and it was my right to observe.

I have been accused of making a film without permission. Is it really necessary to point out here that no law has been passed by the parliament regarding the need for a permit to make a film? There are only some internal memos which are going through changes each time the deputy minister is changed.

I have been accused of not giving a script to the actors.

In our film making genre where we work mostly with non professional actors this is a very routine way of film making practiced by myself and many of my colleagues; the cast mostly consists of non-actors.  Therefore, the director does not find it necessary to give them a script. This accusation sounds more like a joke that has no place in the judiciary system.

I have been accused of having signed a declaration.  I have singed one; an open letter signed by 37 prominent film makers, in order to express their concern about the turn of the actual events in the country. I was one of them.  Unfortunately, instead of listening to the concerns we were accused of treachery. However, these filmmakers are the very same people who have expressed their concerns in the past about injustices around the world.  How can you expect them to remain indifferent to the fate of their own country

I have been accused of organizing demonstrations at the opening of Montreal Film Festival.  At least some truth and fairness should back up any accusations.   I was the chair of the jury in Montreal and arrived only a few hours before the opening.  How could I have organized a demonstration in a place where I hardly knew anyone?  Let's not forget that in those days the Iranian Diaspora would gather at any relevant event around the world to voice their demands;

I have been accused of giving interviews to Persian speaking media abroad.  I know for fact that there are no laws forbidding us from giving interviews?

Second part: What I say

History testifies that an artist's mind is the analytical mind of his society.  By learning about the culture and history of his country, by observing the events that occur in his surroundings, he sees, analyzes and presents issues of the day through his art form to the society.

How can anyone be accused of any crime because of his mind and what passes through the mind?

The assassination of ideas and sterilizing artists of a society has only one result: killing the roots of art and creativity.  Arresting my colleagues and I while shooting an unfinished film is nothing but an attack by those in power on all the artists of this land. It drives this crystal clear however sad message home: “You will repent if you don't think like us”

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I would like to remind the court of yet an other ironic fact about my imprisonment: the space given to Jafar Panahi's festival awards in Tehran’s Museum of Cinema is much larger than his cell in prison?

All  said, despite all the injustice done to me, I, Jafar Panahi, declare once again that I am an Iranian, I am staying in my country and I like to work in my own country. I love my country, I have paid a price for this love too, and I am willing to pay again if necessary.  I have yet an other declaration to add to the first one. As shown in my films , I declare that I believe in the right of “the other” to be different, I believe in mutual understanding and respect, as well as in tolerance; the tolerance that forbid me from judgment and hatred.  I don’t hate anybody, not even my interrogators.

I recognize my responsibilities towards the future generations that will inherit this country from us.

History is patient. Insignificant stories happen without even acknowledging their insignificance. I, myself I am worried about the future generations.

Our country is quite vulnerable; it is only through the instauration of the state of law for all, regardless of any ethnic, religious or politic consideration that we can avoid the very real danger of a chaotic and fatal future.  I truly believe that tolerance represents the only realistic and honorable solution to this imminent danger.

Respectfully,

Jafar Panahi

An Iranian filmmaker

AMERICA'S LEADING FILMMAKERS CALL FOR RELEASE OF IMPRISONED IRANIAN DIRECTOR JAFAR PANAHI

I am so heartened by this action. These filmmakers are all real leaders. I love that they have spoken up for artists' right of freedom of expression on a worldwide basis. We enjoy tremendous freedom here in the USA, but until that is shared by everyone, none of us can truly be free. We must be united in preserving this right for all. 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 other leading film industry figures, have condemned the detention of Jafar Panahi, the acclaimed director of "The White Balloon" and "Offside," and are urging the Iranian government to release him

New York, NY (April 30, 2010) – Jafar Panahi, an 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 and has been held since in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. A number of filmmaking luminaries have come to Mr. Panahi's defense and "condemn his detention and strongly urge the Iranian government to release Mr. Panahi immediately," according to a new petition. (Petition text and full list of signatories is available below.)

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.

Mr. Panahi’s films have been banned from screening in Iran for the past ten years and he has been kept from working for the past four years, but he continues to stay 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."

Mr. Panahi is one of the most heralded directors in the world. He has won such top prizes as 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).

PETITION: Free Jafar Panahi

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.

Signed:

Paul Thomas Anderson Joel & Ethan Coen Francis Ford Coppola Jonathan Demme Robert De Niro Curtis Hanson Jim Jarmusch Ang Lee Richard Linklater Terrence Malick Michael Moore Robert Redford Martin Scorsese James Schamus Paul Schrader Steven Soderbergh Steven Spielberg Oliver Stone Frederick Wiseman

Petition Organizing Committee: Jamsheed Akrami, Godfrey Cheshire, Jem Cohen, Kent Jones, Anthony Kaufman

I am delighted that I was able to help in securing some of the directors' participation that the Organizing Committee had selected.  The prompt response and eagerness to help that I encountered from both the individual directors and their companies was truly inspiring.

Tell Iran To Free Jafar Panahi

On March 2nd it was reported that the director of THE WHITE BALLOON had been imprisoned by the Government of Iran.  He is still being detained.  I came across this petition and signed it.  I am sure that there is more that can be done, but this is a start. Screen points out:

Panahi, who won the Camera d’Or award at Cannes for his debut feature The White Balloon and took the Golden Lion prize at Venice for The Circle, was a vocal supporter of the opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi in last year’s disputed presidentaial election in Iran.