Imprisoned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi has sent a message of defiance to the Tehran regime.
Panahi, one of Iran’s most acclaimed directors, whose latest film No Bears screens in competition at the Venice Film Festival next week, was arrested in Tehran last month and is currently serving a six-year prison sentence. But from his prison cell, Panahi sent a letter to Venice, which festival director Alberto Barbara read out on Saturday at the start of a panel titled “Filmmakers Under Attack: Taking Stock, Taking Action.”
“We are filmmakers, for us to live is to create,” Panahi wrote in part. “The work we create is not commissioned [so] some of our governments see us as criminals … some have been imprisoned, others were forced into exile.”
Panahi was the third Iranian filmmaker to be arrested in the country in less than a week, as authorities also locked up Mohammad Rasoulof, director of Berlin Golden Bear winner There Is No Evil (2020), and Mostafa Aleahmad (Poosteh), amid a broader crackdown on artists across the country. Panahi was arrested after protesting the arrests of Rasoulof and Aleahmad.
There is No Evil producer Kaveh Farnam, speaking on the Venice panel, went over details of the arrests in harrowing detail, calling the government’s latest crackdown “a big attack on independent Iranian cinema, on filmmakers and everything that is not 100 percent in the same direction and same ideology of the government.”
Filmmaking in Iran, Farnam said, “is not a right, it is a privilege. The government gives the privilege to those who make propaganda or present another [positive] image of the country.”
He thanked the international community for “making noise” in support of Iranian filmmakers but warned the government crackdown “isn’t finished yet.”
In addition to the situation in Iran, the panel discussed the persecution of filmmakers in several countries, including Turkey, Egypt and Myanmar. In one of the most absurd cases of censorship, Turkish filmmaker Cidgem Mater was thrown in jail not for making a film but “for thinking about” making one on a banned subject.
Mater also sent a letter to Venice, written from her prison cell, thanking the international film community for their support.
Vanja Kalurdjercic, director of the Rotterdam International Film Festival and one of the founders of the International Commissioner of Filmmakers at Risk (ICFR), said it was necessary for the global film community to “sound a very loud alarm” about the “dramatic increase” in censorship, imprisonment and abuse of filmmakers worldwide.
On Sept. 9, shortly before the world premiere of Panahi’s No Bears in Venice, the festival will hold a “flash mob” on the red carpet to demonstrate its support for filmmakers who have been arrested or imprisoned over the past year. Directors, actors and other VIPs attending the 79th Venice festival will gather and hold up the names of imprisoned artists.