Every political prisoner in the world requires our support and sympathy, whether they are known or unknown and whether we agree with their opinions or not. However, when a famous artist is jailed for his or her ideas, it highlights the cruelty and stupidity of the regime that put him or her there. We begin to feel as much anger, sorrow and frustration as if a friend of ours had been imprisoned. Jafar Panahi is a friend, a friend to everyone who loves and cares about great cinema, and art in general.
Panahi is a brave man. He had the chance to flee Iran, but he chose to stay in his country and fight for liberty and democracy. Now he has been condemned to six years in prison and banned from directing or producing films, writing any scripts, travelling abroad and also giving any interviews to the media including foreign and domestic news organisations, for the next 20 years. As Panahi said a few months ago, ‘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.’
In its severity, Panahi’s punishment is perhaps the harshest ever endured by a filmmaker. Leaving aside Roman Polanski’s comparative freedom, and although Sergei Parajanov suffered many years in prison and labour camps on trumped-up charges of rape, homosexuality and bribery during the Soviet era, while Yilmaz Guney, jailed various times by the Turkish regime for his left-wing activities and for supposedly killing a judge, they both made films by proxy and were able to direct again after their imprisonment.
The fanatical Iranian government accused Panahi of ‘assembly and colluding with the intention to commit crimes against the country’s national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic’. I met Panahi a few times at festivals and know that he is one of the kindest and gentlest of people, and would not harm a fly. His films are imbued with humanity and a passionate concern with the condition of women in his country, though they are not without humour.
It would be a good idea if every film festival showed The White Balloon, The Mirror, The Circle, Crimson Gold and Offside as a tribute to him, that the international community should protest loudly and that governments around the world treat Panahi as a hostage. We can only hope that the political situation in Iran will change in the near future so that he will be able to continue to make films. At least, we know that his work will far outlive Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his cronies.
Ronald Bergan, FEDEORA.eu, 21 December 2010