Banned Iranian Films Smuggled Out In Time For Cannes

Transported secretly from Tehran to Paris, the films directed by Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof will be screened at Cannes, shining a spotlight on Iran's repression of artistic and political expression.

Jafar Panahi in 2007
Jafar Panahi in 2007
Clarisse Fabre

Over the past year, Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof have become symbols of artistic repression in Iran. As part of the continuing fallout from the contested reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009, they were accused of attempting to prepare films hostile to the Iranian government, and arrested on March 1, 2010. Last December, the two directors were were convicted of "assembly, collusion, and propagandizing against the regime," and sentenced to six years in prison, banned from making movies for 20 years, or from leaving the country. Both have appealed.

Now, films from each have managed to be smuggled out of Iran -- one on a USB key, and the other on a single DVD -- to be screened at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival, from May 11 to 22. The two Iranian films were made in "semi-clandestine conditions," the festival announced. The film co-directed by Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, "This is Not a Film," will be shown in a special screening in the festival's Official Selection category. Rasoulof's "Good Bye" will be part of the Un certain regard category.

"Panahi's film is first and foremost a personal diary, in which he recounts his life during these last months," says Thierry Frémaux, general delegate of the festival. "For 75 minutes, we see a man of conviction who comes to terms with his own destiny, but we also feel the anxiety of the director."

Rasoulof's 100-minute film tells the story of a young lawyer, played by Leyla Zareh, who encounters all kinds of difficulties in trying to leave the country. "It is an urban, absolutely magnificent film," says Frémaux.

Commenting on the reasons behind the festival's choice for the two Iranian films, Frémaux said that "Panahi and Rasoulof are film directors whose determination shows that they cannot be prevented from filming. The films were chosen mainly because of their beauty. But screening them makes a lot of sense for other reasons too. That Panahi and Rasoulof send their films to Cannes at the same time, the same year, when they face the same hardship, is a very strong message: Cannes is the international institution which protects them; the global film community is a sort of self-evident fellowship."

This is not the first time that the Cannes festival shows its support for the Iranian filmmakers. One year ago, the festival invited Panahi, at the time imprisoned, to be part of the jury. The director was released on bail on May 25 after spending three months in jail and subjecting himself to a one week long hunger strike. Similar invitations were made by the Venice Film Festival and the Berlin Film Festival.

Jafar Panahi, 50, is one of the most influential figures of the new Iranian artistic wave. Pointing out the inequalities and lack of freedom in Iran, his films are banned by the Iranian government, but are regularly awarded prizes at international festivals: including the 1995 Camera d'Or at Cannes for "the White Ballon," the Golden Lion at Venice for "The Circle" in 2000, the Silver Bear at the Berlin Festival for "Offside" in 2006.

Even if younger (he was born in 1973) and less known than Panahi, Mohammad Rasoulof has also been a fierce critic of the Iranian government. He is the director of six short films and his first feature film, "The Twilight," was released in 2002. Then followed the "Iron Island," screened in the Director's Fortnight section at Cannes in 2005; "Head Wind" (2008), a documentary on the ingenuity of Iranians trying to receive blocked, foreign channels; and "The White Meadows" (2009), in which the main character sails across a large lake in order to collect, year after year, the tears of its inhabitants.

Read the original article in French.

Photo - Cines del Sur

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