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.

Remembering The Past, Segueing Into The Future

Today's guest post is from filmmaker Bette Gordon (whose Luminous Motion I produced, and will screen at the IFC Center in NYC on Monday night.  I plan on being there, and hope to see you there).  Everything old is new again! In the current culture of independent filmmaking, most of us are plugged in to the idea of DIY distribution. This is not a totally new idea.

In 1983, I had just made my first feature film, VARIETY. Its about a woman who sells tickets at a pornographic movie theatre and becomes obsessed with following one of the clients from the theatre into the world of men, money and lower Manhattan. We shot on a very very low budget, with friends and friends of friends. The theatre I used as a location, The Variety Theatre, was a porn theatre on 13th Street and Third Avenue, and after a week of shooting there from 11pm at night until 9am the next morning, we had developed a good relationship with the owner. The projectionist even played the part of “the projectionist” in the movie.

In the 80’s, there was a term called 4-walling, kind of like DIY, where you’d rent a theatre for a period of time, and do your own publicity and marketing to get people to come. At the time, my producer, Renee Shafransky, and I decided it made the most sense to 4-wall the porn theatre and have our opening there. Only problem was that the smell inside was pretty bad, and the seats were kind of sticky. But no worries, once we secured the deal, we went in the day before to clean up.

Splalding Gray, who played the obscene phone call voice in the film, and was Renee’s boyfriend at the time, lit incense to clear the air. I’m pretty sure that just made the mix of smells even worse, but we had to do something. The screenings ended up being a huge success, lines around the block every night for the 3 nights that we rented the theatre. We got press, lots of cash, more invitations to festivals; we even got a distributor and a video deal.

Today, VARIETY has become somewhat of a cult classic. The preservation fund of New York Women in Film and Television recently made a preservation print and the film screened in last year's Tribeca Film Festival. It’s about to screen again at the IFC the night before “Handsome Harry”, my new film.

There was a real spirit of collaboration among filmmakers, artists, musicians, and writers in the early 1980's. When I first moved to New York City, I worked with a group of filmmakers who started the first cinema in an old loft building in Tribeca, called The Collective for Living Cinema. (For me, this was an important/influential introductory experience to the nyc world of film) I met tons of people while working there, but what was so incredible was the program. We would show films fri/sat/sun evening, anything from old Hollywood B movies like “Pickup on South Street” to horror movies like Larry Cohen’s “God Told Me To,” to underground experimental work of Michael Snow, Ken Jacobs, the Kuchar brothers, and performances by people like Jack Smith.

Every night at The Collective was an event. The audiences were interactive and devoted, we did filmmaking workshops and conferences, and I remember we were the first cinema to show John Cassavetes “Shadows” when it had not shown in NYC for years. When we screened Jonathan Demme’s “Caged Heat,” there were lines around the block, and Jonathan came to do a Q & A, like most of the filmmakers whose work we presented. Later, he became one of our board members and brought lots of others to the organization. It was Do It Yourself exhibition, it was a way to curate, to educate and celebrate the films that were being made. We were definitely artist and audience-centric.

There were no gatekeepers back then, we did work together, helping each other out on our films, promoting the work in group shows, and in clubs like The Mudd Club and CBGB’s, at festivals, and anywhere we could find a projector and a room - sometimes on rooftops if that’s what it took. We were artist entrepreneurs - like today’s independent filmmakers who are in a position to become ‘creator -empowered and participatory’.

The technology has changed since the 1980’s, and now it’s all downloadable, but the spirit, dedication and desire was flying high way back then. “Wild Style,” “Stranger Than Paradise,” “Unmade Beds,” “Vortex” by the B;s, “Born in Flames.” The only way to make anything was to Do It Yourself, promote it and sell it yourself. I’m not saying this was a perfect moment, but just hope folks remember that this spirit of collaboration and audience building had some roots in the 80’s.

There were many years after that, in the 1990’s and beyond, where gatekeeper distributors/film companies/studios seemed to gain more control over this free spirit of doing it yourself filmmaking. But now, out of necessity, I think we’re back on track. Necessity is truly the mother of creation. Or is it invention?

Bette Gordon, a pioneer in the American Independent Film world, is best known for her bold explorations of themes related to sexuality. VARIETY (1984) marked her debut as a feature film director, followed by LUMINOUS MOTION produced by Ted Hope and Anthony Bregman of Good Machine. Her current film, HANDSOME HARRY will premiere at the IFC theatre and has an impressive ensemble cast including Jamey Sheridan, Steve Buscemi, Aidan Quinn, Campbell Scott, Jon Savage. Gordon is a Professor of Film at Columbia University's graduate film division in New York City.