Iranian filmmaker Panahi relies on ‘patience, resistance’

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Prominent Iranian director Jafar Panahi is optimistic for the future of filmmaking in his country despite a "restrictive" regime that jailed him for nearly three months.

"There have always been restrictions, but over the past year it was the worst," said Panahi, who was released on May 25 awaiting trial set for late September.

Authorities have refused to return his passport, revoked nine months ago, and he will be unable to attend the Venice film festival to present his short film "The Accordion" on the opening day Wednesday.

"I cannot be pessimistic though. Limitations have always existed, and this era will eventually come to an end too," he told AFP in an interview.

"It’s important to have patience and resistance," said Panahi, 50, a leading figure in Iran’s New Wave cinema movement.

"Even when we are not making movies, the films and stories of our lives are writing themselves, recording a period where we choose not to compromise on the cinema that we believe in or make propagandist movies or easy blockbusters," said the director, who has been unable to make a movie in five years.

"When a filmmaker does not make films it is as if he is jailed. Even when he is freed from the small jail, he finds himself wandering in a larger jail," he said.

"The main question is: why should it be a crime to make a movie? A finished film, well, it can get banned but not the director," Panahi argued.

Panahi’s 2000 film "The Circle" criticizing the treatment of women in Iran won Venice’s top prize the Golden Lion.

"The Accordion" was inspired by a story Panahi read as a teenager about a young musician who wants to play in front of a mosque, but a man who works nearby considers the instrument "heretic" and breaks it.

"I was unhappy with its violent ending and wanted to tell it in a way that violence is no longer needed," Panahi said. "So you could say the theme of my movie is non-violence and rejecting violence, which should be our attitude in this day and age."

Asserting that the Iranian authorities "have a problem with me personally," Panahi said they forbade him from making a film about the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

"During a war and shortly after, films tend to be either propaganda, documentaries or justifying the war, but when you take a distance from the war you should be talking about its humanitarian aspects," he said.

The film Panahi was shooting along with young director Mohammad Rasulof shortly before his arrest — for a second time — in March was "a yet unnamed feature about a family and the post-election developments," he said, referring to disputed June 2009 polls which were followed by a wave of mass protests that triggered a deadly crackdown.

"We were shooting inside my house. Thirty percent of the work had been shot, all interior scenes. But they seized all my rushes," Panahi said.

His imprisonment sparked petitions from dozens of cinema figures inside and outside Iran signed by leading directors including Robert Redford, Steven Spielberg, Michael Moore and Oliver Stone.

The Iranian filmmaker was unable to fulfill his role as a member of the jury at the Cannes film festival in May, when his chair was kept symbolically empty.

Panahi said he did not understand why he should face a travel ban.

"I am in love with my country, and despite all its limitations I would never want to live elsewhere," he said.

Panahi, who won the Berlin Silver Bear in 2006 for "Offside" about girls who disguise themselves as boys to be able to watch a football match, remains committed to his work.

"I am a socially conscious director," he said. "I get my stories from the society. I have to bear witness to anything that goes on in my country. I could not remain indifferent, shut my eyes and not see.

"So I was witnessing everything even if I was not allowed to carry a camera. I recorded everything in my mind and they will probably find their way to my work.”


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