Iranian filmmakers banned from travel; Michael Moore travels to Iran?

by Anthony Kaufman
September 7, 2011 3:05 AM
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With the fall festival season heating up, that means another round of politicking over the latest cinema from Iran.

Banned filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who was sentenced to jail, but remains at home in the midst of the country's protracted judicial process, will unveil his latest film "This Is Not a Film" -- made for a reported $4,500 while he was under house arrest -- for the first time in North America (at the upcoming Toronto and New York Film Festivals).

Variety reported yesterday that Panahi's collaborator on the project, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, had his passport pulled Monday at Tehran Airport where he intended to board a flight to Paris, according to the film's international distributor. The purpose of the trip was to promote the French theatrical release of "This Is Not a Film," before flying on to Toronto.

Mirtahmasb's baggage, laptop and notebooks were confiscated, according to the report.

While "This is Not a Film" was apparently smuggled into France for its highly acclaimed Cannes world premiere in May on a USB drive hidden inside a cake, the film's showings in Toronto and New York don't seem to have come with any baked goods, suggesting that Iranian authorities have tacitly allowed for the screenings to take place.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, while the crackdown against Iranian filmmakers continues, U.S. documentary filmmaker Michael Moore is reportedly planning to visit Iran for the 5th edition of the Cinema Verite international documentary film festival held in the second week of November.

According to a story in the Tehran Times last week, Deputy Culture Minister for Cinematic Affairs Javad Shamaqdari said the filmmaker "wants to visit Iran to do research about the country. In addition, he is an opponent of U.S. government policies and he wants to show his objection by traveling to Iran,” Shamaqdari stated, according to the article.

On two previous occasions, officials announced that Moore had planned to travel to Iran, but he never came. In the past, "Sicko" producer Meghan O’Hara denied the announcement and said, “There is absolutely no truth to the right-wing promoted rumor that Michael is going to Iran -- none, zero, zip.”

But regardless of whatever right-wing backlash it might provoke, I think Moore should go to Iran. Despite the rantings of uninformed commentators, Moore's visit could actually prove extremely helpful to the plight of the country's artists and filmmakers. Moore was one of the signatories to the petition to free Jafar Panahi, and he could use his cache and celebrity to campaign on behalf of Panahi and the many others like him.

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