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The Imprisonment of Jafar Panahi

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It’s one of those ironies of history: a by-product of the clerical revolution in Iran was the emergence of a new wave of Iranian cinema. Kiarostami became the most celebrated auteur in the west, but he was part of a much larger creative and critical community. They view each other’s work at rough-cut stage, they comment on scripts, they suggest actors: there is a strong sense of solidarity. The cinematic language is varied, the interior destiny of each filmmaker is different, but even the self-contained Makhmalbaf family benefits from being part of a larger group. Watching their work one can see the influences that stretch from Rossellini, Fellini and Godard to Kurosawa, Ray and Hou Hsia-hsien.

I’ve always regarded one of this group, Jafar Panahi, as the country’s most fearless filmmaker. The Circle revolved round the oppression of women and the religious police. Offside revealed the Iranian passion for football and the absurdity of denying women the right to watch it in the stadium (Panahi’s daughter is a football fanatic). Crimson Gold is a neo-realist masterpiece, where fragments of reality are combined to reveal an astonishing mosaic: the raw greed of the moneyed elite. The class structure in Iran is rarely mentioned and Panahi’s film (scripted by Kiarostami) was popular inside the country and DVDs circulate even in the villages.

Over two weeks ago, Iranian security forces raided his house and arrested him together with his wife and daughter. The latter were released after 48 hours, but Panahi is still in prison. The state prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Daulatbadi, has insisted that it is ‘not a politically motivated arrest’. What else could it be? A new form of cinema criticism? It’s obvious that the regime was angered by Panahi’s public support for the students during the upheavals that followed the rigged elections of 2009. It may also be that he was preparing a new film on the subject and the authorities have carried out a pre-emptive strike. Whatever the reasoning, it is unacceptable. Panahi needs the support of writers, filmmakers and artistic communities everywhere.

Those who wish to sign the appeal for Panahi should contact a.r.khatami@gmail.com

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