When it was announced that acclaimed filmmakers Jafar Panahi ("The Circle") and Mohammad Rasoulof ("Iron Island") were sentenced to six years in prison, and Panahi would be banned from making films for 20 years, the world community was understandably outraged and immediately seized on the news as evidence of Iran's increasing crackdown on freedom of speech, and yet at the same time, evidence of a revitalized revolutionary movement. It's hard to know how things will shake out, but for many who know how the Iranian judiciary works, it seems very likely that Panahi and Rasoulof will go to prison. There is an appeals process, but apparently, it doesn't bode well for the filmmakers.
And yet, for all the gloomy pronouncements about Panahi and Rasoulof's fate, there were signs yesterday that the Iranian Judiciary could soften the severity of its stance on the directors.
In an interview aired on Iran's state-run TV, Iranian Islamic Guidance Minister Mohammad Hosseini said that the Iranian government might reconsider Panahi's punishment, providing he promises to change the content of his films.
According to an email I received from scholar Jamsheed Akrami, the Culture Minister's quotes offered some hope:
"This has been only an initial verdict. There is room for appeal. We hope he can defend himself well. And then if the individual feels remorse and corrects his direction, the system will treat him leniently."
"We are willing to work with these people concerning their 20-year ban. We can give them some movie projects, meaning that they can start the projects under our direction."
"We have had some talks with the esteemed Minister of Justice and other judiciary friends. There's room for review and appeal provided these people abandon their un-righteous path and get on the same direction as the dear people of Iran."
From what I've come to know of Panahi, however, he doesn't seem like a man who would accept such terms. He might rather take up the position of martyr and go to jail for the cause of making quality cinema under an autocratic regime. For his personal well-being and his family's sake, though, that would be a horrible hardship.
Panahi knows he’s no friend of the regime, and he might decide to keep it that way. As he told me once, “Censorship has always existed in Iranian cinema. It’s a credit to the cleverness of the Iranian filmmakers, both before and after the revolution, that they still make their own movies.”
“I am a socially committed filmmaker," he added, "and I cannot be indifferent to what is happening around me."