One month ago, I was lamenting the fact that I could not help gather awareness for the continued imprisonment of award-winning filmmaker Jafar Panahi (“The White Balloon,” “Crimson Gold") among the U.S. film industry. I had sent calls out through Twitter and Facebook, emails to prominent producers and industry insiders, and had basically failed to gather names for a petition on Panahi's behalf.
Just when I was about to give up, I got a call from filmmaker Jem Cohen, who suggested we initiate a new campaign. Soon, other vigorous supporters got on board, including critics Kent Jones and Godfrey Cheshire, and producer Ted Hope. In a matter of days, the floodgates broke through and it seemed every major American director was joining the petition (see indieWIRE's story today). It was a wonderful, energizing thing to behold, and as the emails came in -- Jim Jarmusch, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Moore, Robert De Niro, Richard Linklater, Steven Soderbergh, Robert Redford, Steven Spielberg, etc. -- it was clear to all involved that a major call to protest was possible, and that Mr. Panahi -- sitting in a small jail cell and subject to repeated interrogations -- was not being forgotten by his fellow filmmakers, even in the U.S.
It's impossible to know, of course, whether such petitions have any sort of effect -- good or bad. There is some concern that calling out the injustices of Iranian authorities could actually make them harder on Panahi. But things are different in Iran right now than they were a few years ago. I'm no expert, but I do know that the "green revolution" and the mounting resistance to Ahmadinejad is making things difficult for the regime. And the more support the resistance feels, the more energized they will be to combat the oppressive regime.
Just two days after our petition was released, pro-government websites have begun their backlash. The news site TABNAK just published a piece with the title, "West Meddles in Panahi Affair Again, This Time Using the Prestige of the Hollywood Greats" (according to a translation provided to me by Jamsheed Akrami, who originated the idea of a high-profile U.S. petition).
The article concludes, "It's up to the government security agencies and the justice system to counter such poisonous media activities against the regime with providing clear explanation of the reasons for Panahi's arrest and offering all the available evidence and documents against him. They should prevent such subversive behaviors against the regime and not allow the foot soldiers of the West's media war to distort the truth by portraying Panahi as being innocent."