Bowing to growing international outrage over the imprisonment of film director Jafar Panahi, the Iranian government has now released him on bail. Iranian state television announced that bail was set at $200,000, according to an article published at the Telegraph.co.uk. No further information on Panahi’s release was immediately available.
On March 1, 2010, Jafar Panahi, one of Iran’s most celebrated and influential film directors, was arrested at his home for allegedly planning to make a film about the June 2009 election which returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office. On Sunday, May 16, while still being held in Tehran’s Evin prison, Panahi began a hunger strike after government officials apparently threatened to arrest his family.
In a letter released by Panahi’s family on May 18, 2010, and published on the website IranHumanRights.org, Panahi stated: “On Saturday night [May 15, 2010], agents attacked Evin’s Cell 56, forcing me and my cellmates to go outdoors without any clothing and kept us in the cold weather for one and a half hours… They even threatened to arrest my entire family and transfer them to Evin Prison and to send my daughter to an unsafe detention center in Rajaie Shahr.”
On May 3, 2010 Indiewire.com reported that Hollywood’s A-List directors had just signed a petition condemming Panahi’s detention and demanding his immediate release. Signatories included Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Jonathan Demme, Ang Lee and Oliver Stone. Another petition, organized on Facebook, includes over 150 international filmmakers and is still accruing signatures online.
Panahi was supposed to serve as a juror at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival and his absence did not go unnoticed. His juror’s chair was left vacant for the duration of the festival and Abbas Kiarostami, in Cannes to screen his new movie CERTIFIED COPY, called Panahi’s imprisonment “intolerable." According to the New York Times, Kiarostami also stated: “When a filmmaker, an artist, is imprisoned, it is art as a whole that is attacked, and it is against this that we should react.”
Another leading figure who played a key role in championing Panahi’s cause was film actor Juliette Binoche, who won Best Actress at Cannes for CERTIFIED COPY. When she won her award, she held up a sign bearing Panahi’s name and said his only crime was “to be an artist, to be independent.”
More About Panahi
Panahi achieved early acclaim with the release of his first film in 1995 —-WHITE BALLOON -- which won a Camera d’Or at the Cannes Festival. When it opened in the U.S. shortly thereafter, it quickly became the most successful Iranian film ever released in North America. The film’s protagonist is a seven year-old girl who wants to buy a goldfish to celebrate Norooz, the Iranian New Year. We see the world through her eyes in real time as she attempts to navigate the “forbidden” Tehran marketplace on her own. Screenplay was by Abbas Kiarostami (THROUGH THE OLIVE TREES) for whom Panahi was an apprentice. Time Out London called the movie an “extraordinary debut feature…of audacious subtlety and simplicity.”
After its release, the Iranian government attempted to have the film withdrawn from the Oscar best foreign film category and prevented Panahi from leaving Iran to promote it. Panahi’s second feature, THE MIRROR, received the Golden Leopard Award at the Locarno Film Festival. This film, also dealing with the human experience of social injustice as experienced by children, tells the story of a young girl whose mother fails to pick her up from school. She must make her way home through the chaos of Tehran on her own. Halfway through the movie, the young actress breaks character and asserts that she’s tired of acting and the movie moves back and forth between illusion and reality. In his review, Stephen Holden of the N.Y. Times said the film “…poses the deepest questions about illusion, reality and filmmaking. Its portrait of Tehran is unforgettable.”
Panahi’s most widely recognized achievement in film came in 2000 with the release of THE CIRCLE, a movie that criticized the treatment of Iranian women. Panahi won the Golden Lion, the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, and the movie was hailed as the Film of the Year at the San Sebastian International Film Festival. The film involves the intersecting stories of Iranian women who are struggling with a variety of issues: giving birth to a girl when a boy was expected, navigating city streets where women are not supposed to walk by themselves, and facing death threats from family members over a possible abortion. Despite its international awards, the film was banned in Iran. In the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert explains: “…the film is profoundly dangerous to the status quo in Iran because it asks us to identify with the plight of women who have done nothing wrong except to be female.”
More recent films, such as CRIMSON GOLD in 2003 earned Panahi the Cannes Film Festival Jury Award. And in 2006, Panahi’s OFFSIDE won the Silver Bear (Jury Grand Prix) at the Berlin Film Festival. In the latter film, a group of Iranian women impersonate men so they can attend a World Cup soccer match.
Updates on Panahi's case will be posted here.