Although he is banned from travel outside his home country, and banned from filmmaking period, Iranian director Jafar Panahi continues to persevere, crafting movies that make their way to international festivals and theatrical release. At the New York Film Festival premiere of his latest work, 3 Faces, Panahi said via statement last night that he is “hopeful about the future of Iranian cinema” and offered a word of encouragement to others working under difficult circumstances.
In 2010, Panahi was arrested by the Iranian authorities and barred from making movies. He has continued to work, but still faces a prison sentence which has not been enforced. 3 Faces had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May, where it won the Best Screenplay prize. Kino Lorber acquired the movie which it will release in March next year.
In NY on Monday night, Panahi’s friend, Iranian-American film scholar Dr. Jamsheed Akrami, took the stage to deliver some introductory remarks at Alice Tully Hall and read a statement from the filmmaker (see it in full below).
In the statement, Panahi noted that he was invited to the NYFF in 1995 with his first film, The White Balloon. “At the time, I could never foresee that there would come a day when I would be barred from attending a festival by my government. I would have loved to be present and see how an American audience would react to my film.”
He added, “Despite the obstacles that I was facing after the ban, I kept telling myself that I couldn’t give up and had to find a way to keep working. I am not alone. Many other Iranian filmmakers work under difficult circumstances. But instead of quitting or complaining, they persist and still make their films despite all the hurdles. Their determination to keep working against the odds makes me so hopeful about the future of Iranian cinema.”
The White Balloon won the Camera d’Or in Cannes in 1995 and Panahi then went on to international acclaim, and alongside Asghar Farhadi, is the best-known Iranian filmmaker despite the oppression he has faced at home. In 2015, he won Berlin’s Golden Bear for Taxi, having previously taken the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay with 2013’s Closed Curtain. In 2011, his This Is Not A Film made headlines with its spot in Special Screenings in Cannes — it had been smuggled to the Croisette via a USB key buried inside a cake that was sent from Iran to France.
Earlier, in 2000, Panahi won Venice’s Golden Lion for The Circle; the Un Certain Regard Jury prize in Cannes for Crimson Gold in 2003; and the Jury Grand Prix in Berlin in 2006 for Offside.
3 Faces is a poignant yet playful exploration of oppression and is Panahi’s fourth film since being banned from filmmaking in Iran. It stars Panahi and well-known Iranian actress Behnaz Jafari (both playing themselves) as they embark on an eventful road trip to the rural northwest of Iran to find out about the fate of a girl whose family has forbidden her from attending a drama conservatory in Tehran. They soon discover that the local hospitality is challenged by a desire to protect age-old traditions.
Akrami ahead of the screening last night noted that what led to Panahi’s ban by the authorities was his “activism in support of freedom of expression in Iran. In the parlance of the Islamic Republic, that kind of activism is translated as ‘acting against national security’ or similar bogus charges, which led to Mr Panahi’s imprisonment for 3 months in 2010. But even before 2010, the Iranian government had shown little tolerance for the kind of socially conscious films Mr Panahi was making, and repeatedly accused him of showing the country in a bad light in movies like The Circle, Crimson Gold, and Offside, which is why those films were never shown in Iran and were also deprived of opportunities such as Oscar considerations despite their artistic merits. This year, it was 3 Faces that lost that opportunity. Nothing against the Iranian entry, No Date No, Signature, which is also a very good film. But the problem is Mr. Panahi’s film was not even considered, and that’s not fair play.”
Akrami also answered a question many have posed which is how does Panahi continue to make movies despite the ban. “With great difficulty,” he said. “The authorities are obviously aware of his films. Why they don’t stop him? It’s partly because Mr Panahi makes his films surreptitiously and partly because his detention in 2010 caused an international uproar. In their damage assessment, maybe the authorities would rather turn a blind eye to Mr Panahi’s violation of the ban than causing another international embarrassment by arresting him again.”
Here’s Panahi’s statement in full:
I would like to thank the New York Film Festival for selecting my film, 3 Faces, for screening in the festival. I’d also like to thank Kino Lorber for distributing the film. I hope they won’t regret their decision! I am especially thankful to my dear friend Dr Jamsheed Akrami who has always supported my films in the United States.
I was invited to the New York Film Festival in 1995 with my first film, The White Balloon. At the time I could never foresee that there would come a day when I would be barred from attending a festival by my government. I would have loved to be present and see how an American audience would react to my film.
I am still so grateful that my films continue to be shown in many countries. Sadly I cannot say the same thing about my own country. Only my first film was publicly screened in Iran. Unfortunately, none of my following 8 films received screening permits.
Despite the obstacles that I was facing after the ban, I kept telling myself that I couldn’t give up and had to find a way to keep working. I am not alone. Many other Iranian filmmakers work under difficult circumstances. But instead of quitting or complaining, they persist and still make their films despite all the hurdles. Their determination to keep working against the odds makes me so hopeful about the future of Iranian cinema.