When are Films Political? When They're Iranian

by Sydney Levine
May 7, 2011 7:43 AM
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As Cannes comes, so do political issues expressed in various forms. Before it begins, the press is already buzzing about films to be shown by the imprisoned filmmakers in Iran, Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof. We wrote about this last year and will continue to do so. We'll bring up other films as they begin to make waves (if they do this year).



Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi at his home after he was freed from jail on bail after more than two months in custody, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, May 25, 2010. (AP Photo)

Films may be political in content covering a political subject or they could have a political affect which polarizes people around issues and causes actions and reactions. The latter are most often the documentaries which today are filling the vacuum created by TV and print media for in depth news coverage. Finally, there are films which are made political by others who want to polarize groups around certain issues. These actions, most recently, are not so much about film as about wishes to censor others’ freedom of expression.

Today's item is covered by all the trades, but I quote Eugene Hernandez's blog on the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, jailed Iranian filmmakers who have been battling their government at home, will screen new films at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival.

In a surprising late announcement today in Paris, organizers said that the two new films, "made in semi-clandestine conditions," reached the Festival in recent days.

On Thursday, Panahi sent a letter to the festival, writing, "The reality of being alive and the dream of keeping cinema alive motivated us to go through the existing limitations in Iranian cinema."

During the Cannes awards ceremony one year ago, actress Juliette Binoche stood on stage in solidarity with Panahi, holding up a sign with his name on it. The fate of Panahi and Rasoulof has since generated support from artists around the world, including a petition for their freedom generated by the Festival.

This is Not a Film (In Film Nist), directed by Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmas, is a seventy five minute diary of Panahi's own situation. In the words of a Cannes fest description today, "This film tells how, for months, Jafar Panahi waited for the verdict of his court appeal. Through the depiction of a day in his life, Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb (a documentary filmmaker and former assistant director) offer us an overview of the current situation of Iranian cinema."

Meanwhile, Mohammad Rasoulof's Good Bye (Be Omid e Didar), is a narrative feature with Leyla Zareh, Fereshteh Sadreorafai, Shahab Hoseini and Roya Teymorian. It was described by the Festival today as, "the story of a young lawyer in Tehran in search of a visa to leave the country, which is what Mohammad Rasoulof did during the winter of 2010/2011."

"[The films] are by their very existence a resistance to the legal action which affects them," Cannes' Gilles Jacob and Thierry Fremaux said in a statement today. "That they send them to Cannes, at the same time, the same year, when they face the same fate, is an act of courage along with an incredible artistic message."

"Our problems are also all of our assets, Jafar Panahi wrote in his recent message. "Understanding this promising paradox helped us not to lose hope, and to be able to go on since we believe wherever in the world that we live, we are going to face problems, big or small. But it is our duty not to be defeated and to find solutions".

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