The Ban in Iran

16 Mar

An Interview with filmmaker Jafar Panahi in a May 2001 Boston Phoenix – linked here for as long as the Phoenix’s archives (RIP Phx!) remain online, text below.

The ban in IranFilmmakers around the world confront the same issues that Hollywood has to contend with: lack of money, lack of talent, production snags. In many countries, however, cinematic artists face an even bigger hurdle: governments that exercise regulatory control over film content. To Live, Zhang Yimou’s 1994 epic chronicle about China in social-political transition, was banned in his homeland — though it’s been seen by Western audiences. Now with The Circle, an indictment of Iran’s oppression of women, filmmaker Jafar Panahi has suffered a similar fate. The film won the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival but has yet to be shown publicly on Iranian soil.

I would very much like to have people in my country see the film; it makes me sad, ” says the director. Panahi made The Circle in response to his two earlier films, The Mirror andThe White Balloon, both of which were about young female protagonists. ” I wanted to see what they would be like as adults. Would they be as bold? There would be more restrictions on them and they would be less innocent. They would be aware and have knowledge of the controls around them — the circle of restriction that they are caught in and cannot escape. That’s what I wanted to explore, and the idea came together after I read about a woman who committed suicide after killing her two children and I began to contemplate the reasons why, because the paper made no such notation about a motive. ”

To make the film, Panahi had to find his own funding. ” There are two types of films in Iran, propaganda films, like films about the Iran-Iraq war that are financed by the government, and private films that are made on bank loans. These either are made for commercial profit or are arthouse films about human interest like mine. I made The Circle with money I had made from my first two films, and I got help co-producing it with the Italian company that had picked up my other films. “

Throughout the process Panahi had to get government approval at regular checkpoints. ” When I first wrote the film and submitted it for review, I did not hear back for a long time, many months. And then they let me make the film, and when I was done, I gave them a print, and again I did not hear from them. ” At that juncture Panahi became fearful that no audience, national or international, would see his film, but then a fortunate sequence of events occurred. ” We have this festival called Fajr, which is a big deal in my country and many people come to it, and when I couldn’t show it there, I took some of my friends, associates, and fans from other countries to my house and showed it to them. One of them, from the Venice Film Festival, where it took top honors, said they had to show it, and the government, believing that a copy of the film had made it out of the country, allowed it to be shown [in Venice] with only three days to go, but it is still not permitted to be shown in my country. “

Given his penchant for such provocative subjects, does Panahi see himself as a political filmmaker or a feminist? ” My films are humanistic, though many have said they are political and I can understand that, but I am an artist trying to shed light, to enlighten, to jolt the mind, I am not political, I am not going to change the world, I am just showing things. As for being a feminist, my films are about daily struggle, not just about women, but for all people, they could be about men, too. “

Last month, however, on April 15, Panahi was detained by police during a layover at New York’s JFK airport. Although details of the incident remain unclear, he maintains that he was humiliated, denied requests for an interpreter, and then, many hours later, led back onto a plane in shackles. In an open letter, the director returned the (American) Freedom of Expression Award and challenged the awarding board and the ” US media ” to ” dare to condemn the savage acts of American Police/Immigration Officers. ” Like his films, the letter appears to be just another intrepid act of a nonpolitical person.

By Tom Meek

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