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.

Who Really Gives Back?

I can't help but walk away from the Sundance Film Festival amazed each year at what an incredible and wonderful thing it is.  And not just the festival but the entire Sundance organization.  This year it even expanded to go beyond the movies and the labs, to include the exhibitors too (I have written enough about the Art House Convergence for you to already know what I am talking about).  

Although the infinite web of Sundance wouldn't exist without many many people, I just can't help but get all impressed by what Robert Redford has done.  Although the media seems to still love to debate about what the festival is or isn't, the simple fact that Sundance is the greatest cultural institution for Indie Film (and maybe it doesn't need that qualifier) that there is in this country (and probably the world) can not be expressed enough.  It truly is mind-boggling in the best way what Redford has given us.
I started making films just as Sundance was revving up.  I probably would have gone into one of my alternative career paths (armed revolutionary, bank robber, toy inventor, or community organizer) if they, American Playhouse, and the IFP weren't around to rescue me and give me a glimmer of hope that truly free filmmaking was possible.  As much as I have benefited from a whole industry and community of support, it is Sundance that holds it all up and continually expands it, demanding us to reach higher.  Wow.  Thank you, Mr. Redford.
Yet each year I  wonder the same thing: why is Robert Redford such a singular example?  Why is everything else in this business driven solely by short term self interest?  I was invited on to the Sundance Panel "The Panic Button: Push or Ponder?" and after participating, I am more ready than ever to push that button.  Unless others follow Redford's example and start giving back, we are sure to have a film culture of extremes: the super low-budget self-financed personal expressions and farm-league calling cards and other industry-backed economically-safe re-imaginings of yesterday's hits.  
And it has to start with those with the most power.  We all need to ask and then act on what we can do to build this culture, allow it to become sustainable, and make it obtainable for all who are willing to work.  We have a long way to go.