Last week, director Jafar Panahi’s latest movie was screened at the New York Film Festival, even as an appeals court in his native Iran upheld his sentence, calling for six years of imprisonment and a 20-year ban on filmmaking or travel outside his homeland. He’s one of several of Iran’s most prominent filmmakers who’ve faced harsh sentences in recent weeks. Now, Hollywood has come together in support of the jailed artists. On Wednesday, a joint statement came from the Academy as well as Hollywood’s top unions and trade groups, urging Iran to free the filmmakers and actors whose draconian sentences were recently handed down or upheld on appeal.
Panahi and fellow filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof were arrested in March 2010 and accused of making anti-government films. Since last May, Panahi has been under house arrest. In December, he and Rasoulof received six-year prison sentences and were banned for 20 years from directing movies, writing screenplays, talking to the press or traveling outside Iran (except for medical care or to make pilgrimages to Mecca). Last week, an appeals court reduced Rasoulof’s jail term to one year but upheld Panahi’s sentence.
Panahi and Rasoulof had been working on a documentary about the turmoil surrounding the 2009 Iranian elections. Panahi argued that he wasn’t making an anti-government film; ironically, he did start making one during his house arrest. Shot in collaboration with Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, ‘This Is Not a Film’ chronicled a typical day of Panahi’s house arrest during his appeals struggle. Shot in part on an iPhone, it was smuggled out of Iran on a flash drive hidden in a cake, which is how it managed to screen at Cannes and the NYFF this year. Now Mirtahmasb is under arrest, too.
Also drawing international outrage was the sentence against actress Marzieh Vafamehr, who starred in the 2009 Australian film ‘My Tehran for Sale.’ In some scenes, she appeared without her head covered (permissible, she argued, because her hair was shaved off), prompting a sentence of 90 lashes and a year in prison. According to The Guardian, director Granaz Moussavi said she provided the court with documentation citing permission from the government to make the film, but when it screened at the Toronto Film Festival two years ago, the filmmakers boasted of having shot much of the film guerrilla-style, without permits.
Other film artists recently targeted for prosecution include Ramin Parchami (an actor recently sentenced to a year in jail after being held since his arrest in February during opposition protests) and six documentary filmmakers accused of being British spies (two are still being held).
“We join our colleagues around the world in calling unequivocally for these filmmakers’ safety, release, and return to filmmaking,” said the Academy statement. “They deserve the same, full freedom of expression that the overwhelming majority of our members enjoy every day, no matter where they are from, no matter where they work, no matter what their beliefs.”
The Academy statement was issued in conjunction with similar statements by the Screen Actors Guild, the Writers Guild, the Directors Guild, the Producers Guild, the American Cinema Editors, the American Society of Cinematographers and the International Documentary Association.
The Hollywood heavyweights’ joint statement follows one made earlier this week by a group of 21 Iranian film artists working outside Iran. The group, which includes Oscar-nominated actress Shohreh Aghdashloo and directors Mohsen and Samira Makhmalbaf, called upon the world’s governments, film festivals, and movie and TV organizations to petition Iran’s government for the filmmakers’ release. The group also called for economic sanctions and boycotts of Iran’s official movie and TV organizations.
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