May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
April 5, 2010
Several of the most important filmmakers in the world today are from Iran. And that’s remarkable, considering the Iranian government’s dislike for art that shows the rest of the world the truth about the totalitarianism and suffering there.
When protesters took to the streets, some of those filmmakers were courageous in their shows of support.
Last month, Michael Leary posted a link here at Filmwell that led readers to an article from the film issue of The Believer. That article, “Watching Shrek in Iran,” included some surprising Iranian perspective on the career of their world-famous director Abbas Kiarostami, who has been in Italy making a movie with Juliette Binoche. Apparently, Kiarostami isn’t as popular in his own country as he is abroad. Iranians seem to prefer filmmakers who stay home and focus on Iran.
But those who do focus on the truth of life in Iran take serious risks.
That could not be more obvious than it is today, with this dismaying update on the condition of the imprisoned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who made The Circle and Offsides.
I confess, I did not even know that the director had been imprisoned (just a day after Leary’s post on Kiarostami). But as I traced news stories from today’s updates to the original news of Panahi’s arrest, I was dismayed.
Panahi’s films have been rare, persuasive, troubling glimpses of oppression in Iran. As he told Anthony Kaufman (indieWire), “I am a socially committed filmmaker, and I cannot be indifferent to what is happening around me.”
He was arrested on March 1, 2010, and taken to prison.
Abbas Kiarostami has come forward with an open letter that calls for Panahi’s release.
On Friday, The New York Times reported that he was still in jail, and that things were looking no better.
Saturday’s report from the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran had more details, saying that Panahi’s wife was concerned about her husband’s health:
Taherah Saeedi, the wife of film director Jafar Panahi, who was arrested on 2 March 2010, has published a report about her husband’s condition in solitary confinement that has rendered him immobile and under emotional stress. She stated that in the past, her husband has twice experienced severe spasms in his chest for which he was taken to the emergency room. The attending physician diagnosed his condition to be psychological and said that if it continued he could suffer a heart attack.
IFC has further commentary on the situation here.
There’s a certain sickening inevitability to the news that Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi has been arrested, confined and in danger of a heart attack. He’d been flirting with danger for a long time — first with a series of films uniformly banned in Iran, then by wearing the long green scarf signifying solidarity with the protesters at festivals. By effectively becoming the international cinematic voice of the opposition, something like this seemed only a matter of time in coming.
But it’s still incredibly disturbing.
Say a prayer for Mr. Panahi and for his family, and for all of those imprisoned truth-tellers that he represents.
Watch his movies, and share them. You should especially see The Circle. They are excellent films, urgent and brave. And as we can see now, they are costly.
Jeffrey Overstreet watches far too many movies, writes film reviews and two weekly columns for ChristianityTodayMovies.com, maintains the Web site LookingCloser.org, contributes to Paste Magazine, and is at work on a series of novels. He works at Seattle Pacific University.