Jafar Panahi

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Jafar Panahi
Jafar Panahi, Cines del Sur 2007-1 (cropped).jpg
Jafar Panahi at the Cines del Sur (2007)
Born (1960-07-11) 11 July 1960 (age 62)
Alma materIran Broadcasting College of Cinema and TV
Occupation(s)Film director, screenwriter, producer, editor
Years active1988–present
Known forThe White Balloon
The Circle
This Is Not a Film
SpouseTahere Saeedi[1]
AwardsGolden Lion (2000)
Un Certain Regard (2003)
Sakharov Prize (2012)
Golden Bear (2015)
Military career
Years of service1980–1982

Jafar Panâhi (Persian: جعفر پناهی, [d͡ʒæˈfæɾ pæˈnɒːhiː]; born 11 July 1960) is an Iranian film director, screenwriter, and film editor, commonly associated with the Iranian New Wave film movement. After several years of making short films and working as an assistant director for fellow Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, Panahi achieved international recognition with his feature film debut, The White Balloon (1995). The film won the Caméra d'Or at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, the first major award an Iranian film won at Cannes.

Panahi was quickly recognized as one of Iran's most influential filmmakers. His films were often banned in Iran, but he continued to receive international acclaim from film theorists and critics and won numerous awards, including the Golden Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival for The Mirror (1997), the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for The Circle (2000), and the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for Offside (2006).[2] His films are known for their humanistic perspective on life in Iran, often focusing on the hardships of children, the impoverished, and women. Hamid Dabashi has written, "Panahi does not do as he is told—in fact he has made a successful career in not doing as he is told."[3]

After several years of conflict with the Iranian government over the content of his films (including several short-term arrests), Panahi was arrested in March 2010 along with his wife, daughter, and 15 friends, and later charged with propaganda against the Iranian government. Despite support from filmmakers, film organizations, and human rights organizations around the world, in December 2010 Panahi was sentenced to six years in prison and a 20-year ban on directing any movies, writing screenplays, giving interviews with Iranian or foreign media, or leaving the country except for medical treatment or making the Hajj pilgrimage.[4] While awaiting the result of an appeal he made This Is Not a Film (2011), a documentary feature in the form of a video diary. It was smuggled out of Iran on a flash drive hidden inside a cake and shown at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. In February 2013 the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival showed Closed Curtain (Pardé) by Panahi and Kambuzia Partovi in competition; Panahi won the Silver Bear for Best Script. Panahi's subsequent film Taxi also premiered in competition at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival in February 2015 and won the Golden Bear, the prize awarded for the best film in the festival.[5] In 2018 he won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Screenplay (tied) for 3 Faces; he was unable to leave Iran to attend the festival, so his daughter, Solmaz Panahi, read his statement and received the award on his behalf.[6]

1960–1979: Early life[edit]

Panahi was born in Mianeh, Iran to an Iranian Azerbaijani family.[7] He has described his family as working class and grew up with four sisters and two brothers.[8] His father worked as a house painter. His family spoke Azerbaijani at home, but Persian with other Iranians.[9] When he was ten years old he wrote on 8 mm film camera. He also acted in one film and assisted Kanoon's library director in running a program that taught children how to operate a film camera.[9] Starting at age 12, Panahi worked after school in order to afford to go see films. His impoverished childhood helped form the humanistic worldview of his films.[10]

1980–1994: Education and early film career[edit]

At age 20 Panahi was conscripted into the Iranian army and served in the Iran–Iraq War, working as an army cinematographer from 1980 to 1982.[11] In 1981 he was captured by Kurdish rebels and held for 76 days.[9] From his war experiences he made a documentary that was eventually shown on TV. After completing his military service, Panahi enrolled at the College of Cinema and TV in Tehran, where he studied filmmaking and especially appreciated the works of Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Luis Buñuel, and Jean-Luc Godard.[9] At school he first met and befriended filmmaker Parviz Shahbazi and cinematographer Farzad Jodat, who shot all of Panahi's early work. During college he interned at the Bandar Abbas Center on the Persian Gulf Coast, where he made his first short documentary films.[12] He also began working as an assistant director on his Professor's films before graduating in 1988.[13][14][15]

Panahi made several short documentary films for Iranian television through the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting's Channel 2. His first short film, The Wounded Heads (Yarali Bashlar), was a documentary about the illegal mourning tradition of head slashing in the Azerbaijan region of northern Iran. The film documents a mourning ceremony for the third Shi'ite Imam, Imam Hossein, in which people hit their heads with knives until they bled. Panahi had to shoot in secret and the film was banned for several years. In 1988 Panahi filmed The Second Look (Negah-e Dovvom), a behind-the-scenes documentary short on the making of Kambuzia Partovi's film Golnar. It focuses on the puppet maker for Partovi's film and his relationship with his puppets.[16][17] It was not released until 1993.[12] In 1990 he worked as an assistant director on Partovi's film The Fish (1991).

In 1992 Panahi made his first narrative short film, The Friend (Doust), an homage to Kiarostami's first short film, The Bread and Alley.[18] That same year Panahi made his second narrative short, The Final Exam (Akharin Emtehan). Both films starred non-professional actors Ali Azizollahi and Mehdi Shahabi and won awards for Best Film, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing at Iran's National TV Festival that year.[14] Inspired by a story of a young Luis Buñuel once contacting successful film director Jean Epstein to ask for a job in filmmaking, Panahi left a message on Kiarostami's answering machine saying that he loved his films and asking for a job on his next film. Kiarostami hired Panahi as his assistant director for the film Through the Olive Trees.[8][9] He had seen several of Panahi's short films and in 1995 said he was "extremely gifted and can be a promising figure in our cinema's future."

1995–2009: Career as a film director[edit]

The White Balloon (1995)[edit]

In 1995 Panahi made his feature film debut, The White Balloon (Badkonak-e sefid), produced by IRIB- Channel 2, Ferdos Films and the Farabi Cinema Foundation.[19] Initially titled Happy New Year, Panahi developed the original story with Parviz Shahbazi and attempted to get funding from IRIB's Channel 1 with the expectation that it would be a short film, but his proposal was rejected.[14] He then showed his original treatment for the film to Kiarostami during the shooting of Through the Olive Trees. Kiarostami encouraged Panahi to make the idea into a feature and agreed to write the script. During their car rides to set while shooting, Kiarostami would dictate the film's script while Panahi taped the conversation and typed the script.[9] Kiarostami also helped Panahi secure funding from IRIB's Channel 2.[8] While casting the film, Panahi traveled throughout Iran in order to include all of the diverse ethnicities of his country as characters in the film. He found lead actress Aida Mohammadkhani at the first school that he visited and immediately cast her as Razieh, but auditioned 2,600 young boys for the role of Razieh's brother Ali before settling on Mohsen Kalifi.[20] He cast non-professionals in most of the supporting roles, including a real fish seller he found in the Rasht market and a college student to portray the young soldier. He also cast professional actress Anna Borkowska as an Armenian woman.[14]

In the film Razieh, a strong-willed little girl in Tehran, wants to buy a lucky goldfish for the upcoming Iranian New Year celebration, but struggles to get and hold on to the 500-toman banknote needed to purchase the fish. Panahi worked closely with Mohammadkhani, gaining her trust and acting out each scene for her to mimic while still adding her own personality to the performance. Panahi was most concerned about Mohammadkhani being able to cry on cue, so he would have her stare at him off camera while he started to cry, causing her to cry.[20] Filming began in early April 1994 in Kashan, Iran and continued until early June.[14] Panahi has stated that during the making of his feature debut he "wanted to prove to myself that I can do the job, that I can finish a feature film successfully and get good acting out of my players."[8] He also stated that "In a world where films are made with millions of dollars, we made a film about a little girl who wants to buy a fish for less than a dollar – this is what we’re trying to show."[21] In Iran, films depicting children are the most likely to avoid censorship or political controversy, and The White Balloon was screened exclusively in theatres that specialized in children's films. Because of this the film had low attendance on its initial run in Iranian theatres, with only 130,000 tickets sold.

It went on to win four prizes in Iran[20] at the Isfahan Film Festival for Children and Young Adults and at the Fajr International Film Festival. For several years after its release, Kanoon's Channel 2 would broadcast the film every year on New Year's Day.[14] Outside of Iran The White Balloon received excellent reviews[22] and was shown at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Camera d'Or. It also won the Golden Award of the Governor of Tokyo for Best Film and the Bronze Dragon for Best Film of Young Cinema at the 1995 Tokyo International Film Festival, the International Jury Award at the 1995 São Paulo International Film Festival[23] and the Best Film Award at the 1996 Cinéfest Sudbury International Film Festival.[19] It was Iran's official submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the 68th Academy Awards; however, the Iranian government asked the Academy to withdraw the film after Iran's relations with the US began to deteriorate. The Academy refused to withdraw the film, which was not nominated, and Panahi was forbidden by the Iranian government to travel to the Sundance Film Festival or to participate in phone interviews with US reporters to promote the film.[24]

The Mirror (1997)[edit]

Panahi's second feature film was The Mirror, produced by Rooz Films.[25] Initially Panahi was going to direct Kiarostami's script for Willow and Wind, but he decided to pursue his own work instead.[14] Panahi was inspired to make the film when while attending the 1996 Pusan International Film Festival in South Korea he noticed a young girl sitting alone on a park bench staring blankly into space, and realized that he had seen this same thing countless times in Iran and never paid attention to it. He has stated that he "choose a precocious child and placed her in a situation where she is left to her own devices. Everyone she meets on her journey is wearing a mask or playing a role. I wanted to throw these masks away."[26] The film stars Mina Mohammadkhani, the sister of Aida Mohammadkhani. In the film Mohammadkhani could be said to play two characters: the role of a little girl named Baharan and then herself as the film shifts into a documentary mode. Panahi reported casting her after having detected " a feeling of emptiness within her, and a determination to prove herself to the world."[27] It received the Golden Leopard Award at the Locarno Film Festival, the Special Jury Award and Best Director Award at the 1998 Singapore International Film Festival, the Golden Tulip Award at the 1998 Istanbul Film Festival, the FIPRESCI Prize and the Eisenstein Magical Crystal and Cash Award at the 1998 Riga International Film Festival, and Buñuel's Golden Era Award at the Royal Archive Film Festival in Belgium.[25]

The Circle (2000)[edit]

In 2000 Panahi made The Circle, produced by Jafar Panahi Film Productions and Mikado-Lumiere&Co.[28] Although Panahi claimed that he was not a political filmmaker, his third feature was a major departure from his first two works about children and is critical of the treatment of women under Iran's Islamist regime.[29] Panahi has stated that "I started my career making children’s films, and while doing that I had no problems with censors. As soon as I started making feature films, it all started and I had problems,"[30] but that "in my first films, I worked with children and young people, but I began to think of the limitations facing these girls once they grow up. In order to visualize these limitations and to have this constraint better projected visually, I went to a social class, which has more limitations to areas that are more underprivileged, so that this idea could come out ever stronger."[31] He had to wait an entire year to get an official shooting permit.[32]

The film was shot in 35 days over a 53-day period. As usual, Panahi used non-professional actors, with the exceptions of Fatemeh Naghavi and Fereshteh Sadre Orafaiy. He saw the lead actress, Nargess Mamizadeh, in a park one day and immediately offered her the role. The film opens with one long, handheld shot that lasts over three minutes and took 13 attempts to achieve.[33] Panahi adopted a different camera style to depict each of the four main protagonists' lives. For the first, an idealistic woman he used a handheld camera. For the second woman, the camera is mounted on a constantly moving dolly. The third woman's story is told at night in darker outside, and the camera is static with pans and tight close-ups. For the last, least optimistic woman both the camera and the woman are completely immobile and very little sound is used.[27] Panahi submitted the film to the Venice Film Festival without getting a permit from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.[34] At the festival it won the Golden Lion, the FIPRESCI prize, the UNICEF prize, the Ecumenical Special Mention, the Sergio Trazzati Award and Mamizadeh won the Italian Film Journalist's Award for Best Actress.[35] The Ministry of Culture and Guidance issued a permit for the film a few days before its screening at the festival, although they already knew that it had been submitted illegally. The Ministry later banned the film in Iran. Panahi was worried that the Ministry would "confiscate and mutilate" all copies of the film, so he made multiple copies and hid them all over Iran.[36] Irans's Cinema Deputy Mohammad-Hassan Pezeshk said that The Circle was banned because it had "such a completely dark and humiliating perspective."[37] It was later withdrawn by Iranian authorities from the Fajr International Film Festival for being "offensive to Muslim women".[32]

The film went on to win the FIPRESCI Film of the Year Award at the San Sebastián International Film Festival,[38] appeared on Top 10 lists of critics worldwide[39] and won the Best Film Award at the Montevideo International Film Festival and the Freedom of Expression Award from the National Board of Review.[35]

Crimson Gold (2003)[edit]

"When people like me do these things, we know what position we are in. We are recognized around the world and so [the authorities] cannot pressure us too much. If something happens to us, it will be reported everywhere and even here [in Iran]. We have to risk pushing the limits for those kids who are just starting off. Those who are making their first films are forced to do whatever they are told; they allow the censors to mutilate their films. If we do not stand up to the censors the conditions will be worse for the young filmmakers. This would mean that this cinema would not continue; it would be suppressed and end with the few people who make films now. A cinema can survive if it has new filmmakers and makes new films. If we don’t resist, the path will be blocked for the new filmmaker and therefore in the eyes of the next generation we will be responsible. There is no other way."

—Jafar Panahi[36]

Panahi directed Crimson Gold in 2003, produced by Jafar Panahi Productions.[40] The film depicts an impoverished pizza delivery man's failed attempt to rob a jewelry store and the events that drove him to his crime. The story is based on real events that Panahi first heard about when Kiarostami told him the story while they were stuck in a traffic jam on their way to one of Kiarostami's photographic exhibits. Panahi was extremely moved by the story and Kiarostami agreed to write the script for him to direct.[41][42] Panahi submitted the film to the Cannes Film Festival without being granted a permit from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.[34] Panahi had applied for the permit but the Ministry demanded several cuts be made to the film. Panahi refused and submitted the film anyway.[36] At the festival it won the Un Certain Regard Jury Award. It later won the Golden Hugo Award for Best Film at the Chicago International Film Festival.[43] Like The Circle, Crimson Gold was banned in Iran.[32]

Offside (2006)[edit]

In 2006 Panahi made Offside. In the film, a group of young Iranian girls disguise themselves as boys to sneak into Azadi Stadium to watch the World Cup qualifying football playoff game between Iran and Bahrain. The film was partially shot during the actual game it depicts.[44] Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution women have been banned from attending football matches in Iran on grounds of rowdy and aggressive language, lewd behavior, and seeing men in shorts and short sleeve shirts. At one point Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had wanted to repeal the law but was overruled by the ulema.[45] Panahi has stated "I use the football game as a metaphor to show the discrimination against women on a larger scale. All my movies have that topic at their center. This is what I am trying to change in Iranian society."[46] The film was inspired by an incident several years earlier when Panahi's daughter was refused entry to a football stadium but ended up sneaking into the stadium anyway.[44][47]

Knowing that the film would be controversial, Panahi and his crew submitted a fake script about some young men who go to a football match to Iranian authorities in order to get permission to make the film. However, before they began shooting the Ministry of Guidance, which issues licenses for films to be shown publicly, told Panahi in advance that because of his past films they would not issue Offside a license until he re-edited his previous films. Not wanting to miss the World Cup tournament, Panahi ignored the Ministry and began shooting the film. As usual, Panahi cast non-professional actors for the film, and the group of young girls in the lead roles were mostly university students that Panahi found through friends who all were passionate fans of football.[45] The film was shot in 39 days and in order to move unnoticed through large crowds Panahi used digital video for the first time so as to have a smaller, more inconspicuous camera. Panahi also officially listed his Assistant Director as the Director of the film so as not to attract the attention of the Ministry of Guidance or the Disciplinary Forces of Tehran, but towards the end of the films shooting a newspaper article about the making of the film listed Panahi as the director and both organizations attempted to shut the film down and confiscate the footage. Only a sequence that takes place on a bus remained to be filmed so Panahi was able to continue filming without being caught.[48]

The film premiered in competition at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival, where Panahi was awarded with the Silver Bear Jury Grand Prix. Like The Circle and Crimson Gold before it, Offside was banned from being shown in Iran.[46] Panahi had already set up distribution for the film all over Iran and the film was predicted to break all box office records.[48] Two days after being banned and twenty days before the World Cup championship game, unlicensed DVD copies of the film became available all over Iran.[49] Panahi has stated that of his films Offside is "probably the one that people have seen the most" in Iran.[48] After the film's release a feminist protest group in Iran called the White Scarf Girls began showing up at football matches carrying banners that read: "We don't want to be Offside"[48] Sony Pictures Classics, the film's U.S. distributor, wrote a letter to the Ministry of Guidance in Iran requesting that the film be shown for at least one week in its home country so that they could launch a campaign to nominate the film for Best Foreign Language Film, but the Ministry refused.[48]

Other work[edit]

In 1997 Panahi made the documentary short film Ardekoul. In 2007 he contributed the short film Untying the Knot to the omnibus film Persian Carpet. The film contains one single long take and is inspired by his childhood.[27] In 2010 he made the short film The Accordion, which was commissioned for the THEN AND NOW Beyond Borders and Differences series of short film by Art for The World. It premiered at the 2010 Venice Film Festival.[50] Panahi has referred to the situation in Iran as "the dark ages for filmmaking in Iran" and that he was "presenting the future with something to see, a document of what life was like at that time."[30]

Panahi directed a segment of the anthology film The Year of the Everlasting Storm which will have its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in July 2021.[51]

Legal problems and controversies[edit]

Earlier legal problems[edit]

On 15 April 2001 Panahi stopped over at JFK International Airport in New York City en route from Hong Kong to Buenos Aires, where he was to participate in a film festival. He was immediately detained by police officers who wanted to fingerprint and photograph him; Panahi refused both requests on the grounds that he was not a criminal. He was threatened with jail and refused an interpreter or a phone call. After being handcuffed and detained at the airport until the next morning, he was finally allowed to make a phone call to his friend Professor Jamsheed Akrami. He was finally photographed and sent back to Hong Kong.[52][53]

In 2003 Panahi was arrested and interrogated for four hours by the Information Ministry in Iran, then released after being encouraged to leave Iran.[30]

On 30 July 2009 Mojtaba Saminejad, an Iranian blogger and human rights activist writing from Iran, reported that Panahi had been arrested at the cemetery in Tehran where mourners had gathered near the grave of Neda Agha-Soltan.[54] He was able to contact friends in the film industry, both in Iran and internationally, and filmmakers and the news media pressured the Iranian government to release him. He was detained for eight hours. The Iranian government claimed he had been arrested by mistake.[55]

In September 2009 Panahi travelled to Montreal to act as the Head of the Jury at the 2009 Montreal World Film Festival. At the festival he convinced the entire jury to wear green scarves during the opening and closing ceremonies in solidarity with the Green Movement in Iran. He also openly supported and appeared in photographs with Iranian Green Movement protesters at the festival.[56]

In February 2010 Panahi requested to travel to the 60th Berlin Film Festival to participate in the panel discussion on "Iranian Cinema: Present and Future. Expectations inside and outside of Iran". This request was denied.[57]

2010 imprisonment[edit]

Jafar Panahi
Criminal statusConvicted
Conviction(s)18 December 2010
Criminal chargePropaganda against the regime
Penalty6 years imprisonment
20-year media and travel ban (except for medical treatment and pilgrimage to Mecca)
Capture status
Upheld after appeal (15 October 2011)
Partner(s)Mohammad Rasoulof
Mehdi Pourmoussa
Date apprehended
1 April 2010; 13 years ago (2010-04-01)
Imprisoned atEvin Prison, Tehran, Iran

On 1 March 2010 Panahi was arrested again. Plainclothes officers took him, his wife Tahereh Saidi, daughter Solmaz Panahi, and 15 of his friends to Evin Prison.[58] Most of the group were released after 48 hours and Mohammad Rasoulof and Mehdi Pourmoussa on 17 March 2010, but Panahi had to remain in section 209 of Evin Prison.[59] The government confirmed his arrest but did not specify the charges.[60]

On 14 April 2010, Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance said that Panahi had been arrested because he had "tried to make a documentary about the unrest that followed the disputed 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."[citation needed]

On 18 May Panahi sent a message to Abbas Baktiari, director of the Pouya Cultural Center, an Iranian-French cultural organization in Paris, saying that he was being mistreated in prison and his family were being threatened; as a result had begun a hunger strike.[61] On 25 May he was released on $200,000 bail while awaiting trial.[62]

On 20 December 2010, after convicting Panahi of "assembly and colluding with the intention to commit crimes against the country’s national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic," the Islamic Revolutionary Court sentenced him to six years' imprisonment and a 20-year ban from making or directing any movies, writing screenplays, giving interviews to media, or leaving Iran, except for Hajj holy pilgrimage to Mecca or medical treatment.[4] Panahi's colleague Mohammad Rasoulof also received six years' imprisonment but that sentence was subsequently reduced to one year after appeal.

On 15 October 2011, a court in Tehran upheld Panahi's sentence and ban.[63] Following the decision, Panahi was placed under house arrest. He has since been allowed to move more freely but he cannot travel outside Iran.[64]

International response to the prison and ban sentence[edit]

The following people and organizations called for his release:

France's Ministry of Foreign Affairs[74] and minister of culture and communications Frédéric Mitterrand, German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle,[75] Government of Canada, Finnish Green MP Rosa Meriläinen and Human Rights Watch[76] have condemned the arrest.

On 8 March 2010 a group of well-known Iranian producers, directors and actors visited Panahi's family to show their support and call for his immediate release. After more than a week in captivity, Panahi was finally allowed to call his family. On 18 March 2010 he was allowed to have visitors, including his family and lawyer. Iran's culture minister said on 14 April 2010 that Panahi had been arrested because he was "making a film against the regime and it was about the events that followed election."[77] In an interview with AFP in mid-March, Panahi's wife, Tahereh Saeedi, denied that he was making a film about post-election events, saying: "The film was being shot inside the house and had nothing to do with the regime."[78]

In mid-March 50 Iranian directors, actors and artists signed a petition seeking Panahi's release.[77] American film directors Paul Thomas Anderson, Joel & Ethan Coen, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, Robert De Niro, Curtis Hanson, Jim Jarmusch, Ang Lee, Richard Linklater, Terrence Malick, Michael Moore, Robert Redford, Martin Scorsese, James Schamus, Paul Schrader, Steven Soderbergh, Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, and Frederick Wiseman signed a letter on 30 April 2010 urging Panahi's release.[79] The petition ends, "Like artists everywhere, Iran’s filmmakers should be celebrated, not censored, repressed, and imprisoned." He was named a member of the jury at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival but because of his imprisonment he could not attend and his chair was symbolically kept empty.[80]

Further international response[edit]

On 23 December 2010 Amnesty International announced that it was mobilizing an online petition spearheaded by Paul Haggis and Nazanin Boniadi and signed by Sean Penn, Martin Scorsese, Harvey Weinstein and others to protest Panahi's sentence.[81][82]

Cine Foundation International, a "nonprofit film company and human rights NGO aiming to 'empower open consciousness through cinema'" announced on 3 January 2011 that it was launching a campaign of protest films and public actions calling for Panahi's release. "The campaign will include protest films that speak to human rights issues in Iran and throughout the world, six of which are commissioned feature-length, plus twenty shorts. Participating filmmakers may act anonymously or through pseudonyms since voicing their stories can be dangerous. The films, which will address themes of nation, identity, self, spiritual culture, censorship and imprisonment, will be aimed for public, web and various exhibition media".[83][84] Later in January, CFI deployed a video protest mechanism called White Meadows[85] (named for the Mohammad Rasoulof film The White Meadows, which Panahi edited) and developed by Ericson deJesus (of Yahoo! and frog design) at the foundation's request. The video mechanism "allow(s) anyone in the world to record a short video statement about Panahi and Rasoulof. There will be an ESCAPE button at top, allowing quick exit for those in countries where recording a statement would be dangerous. There will be an option to have the screen black, and soon, voice distortion. The video statements will be recorded as mp4s, giving them maximum transmedia capacity, which essentially makes them broadcastable from any device that can show video".[86] Users can also use the mechanism to comment on how they would "like to see as an international response by the film industry", comment on the state of human rights in general, or "report a human rights abuse to the world".[87]

In his March 2011 greetings to the Iranian people on the occasion of the Iranian New Year, U.S. President Barack Obama cited Panahi's case as an example of Iran's oppressive regime.[88] In April 2011 Time Magazine placed Panahi third on its list of the Top 10 Persecuted Artists who have challenged authority.[89]

In Spring 2011 Boston's American Repertory Theater and System of a Down's Serj Tankian dedicated their production of Prometheus Bound to Panahi and seven other activists, stating in the program notes that "by singing the story of Prometheus, the God who defied the tyrant Zeus by giving the human race both fire and art, this production hopes to give a voice to those currently being silenced or endangered by modern-day oppressors".[90]

On 26 October 2012 Panahi was announced as a co-winner of the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize. He shared the award with Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.[91] European Parliament President Martin Schulz called them "a woman and a man who have not been bowed by fear and intimidation and who have decided to put the fate of their country before their own".[92] Catherine Ashton, the European Union High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said of the prize, "I am following the case of Nasrin Sotoudeh and other human rights defenders with great concern ... We will continue to campaign for the charges against them to be dropped. We look to Iran to respect the human rights obligations it has signed up to".[91] Panahi's daughter Solmaz accepted the award.[93]

In March 2013 Columbia University professor Hamid Dabashi wrote an article highly critical of Panahi and his decision to continue making films and partially blaming him for the "tragic endings of Iranian cinema". Dabashi had previously written extensively about and praised Panahi's early career. Dabashi called Panahi's two post-arrest films "self-indulgent vagaries farthest removed from" his previous films and wrote that Panahi "should have heeded the vicious sentence and stayed away from his camera for a while and not indulge, for precisely the selfsame social punch that have made his best films knife-sharp precise has now dulled the wit of the filmmaker that was once able to put it to such magnificent use."[94]

In June 2013 Panahi was invited to join The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.[95]

In August 2013, shortly after the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, several well-known political prisoners were released. One such prisoner was Panahi's Sakharov Prize co-winner Nasrin Sotoudeh, whose release prompted European Parliament President Martin Schulz to say "We are eagerly waiting to welcome her in Strasbourg together with her Sakharov Prize co-winner, film director Jafar Panahi."[96] A few days earlier the House of Cinema, Iran's largest professional guild for filmmakers, reopened after having been deemed illegal in January 2012.[97]

2022 arrest[edit]

On 11 July 2022, Panahi was arrested when he went to the prosecutor's office to follow up on the situation of another film-maker, Mohammad Rasoulof. He was the third director detained in less than a week.[98] On 1 February 2023, Panahi began a hunger strike, demanding his release from prison.[99] He was released 48 hours later.[100]

2010–present: further film career[edit]

This Is Not a Film (2011)[edit]

In the middle of the controversy and court appeal, Panahi broke the ban imposed on him from making films and made the documentary feature This Is Not a Film (2011) in collaboration with Iranian filmmaker Mojtaba Mirtahmasb. The film was made for €3,200 and shot on a digital camcorder and an iPhone. It was shot in four days over a ten-day period in March 2011 and its title was inspired by René Magritte's painting The Treachery of Images. In the film Panahi sits in his apartment making phone calls about his court case, watching TV news stories, interacting with his neighbors, talking about his past films and describing scenes from the film that he had begun shooting when he was arrested (much as he had described scenes from films to his sisters as a child). Ten days before the opening of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, This Is Not a Film was announced as a surprise entry into the festival. It was smuggled out of Iran on a USB thumb drive that had been hidden inside a cake. Panahi's wife and daughter attended the festival.[101] In December 2012 it was shortlisted as one of 15 films eligible for Best Documentary Feature at the 85th Academy Awards.[102]

Closed Curtain (2013)[edit]

In October 2012 Kiarostami told a journalist that Panahi had completed a new film that he predicted would be screened in film festivals.[103] In January 2013 the Berlin Film Festival announced that it would premiere Closed Curtain (Pardeh) at its 2013 festival. This film was co-directed by Panahi and Kambozia Partovi, who both appear in it along with cast members Maryam Moqadam and Hadi Saeedi.[104][105] Berlin Film Festival director Dieter Kosslick is a longtime supporter of Panahi and said that he "asked the Iranian government, the president and the culture minister, to allow Jafar Panahi to attend the world premiere of his film at the Berlinale."[106] In the film Partovi and Moqadam star as two people wanted by the police who hide out in a house on the Caspian Sea and always keep the curtains closed to avoid detection.[107] The film was shown in competition at the 63rd Berlinale in February 2013. Panahi won the Silver Bear for Best Script.[108]

Taxi (2015)[edit]

In January 2015 it was announced that Panahi's film Taxi was scheduled to premiere in competition at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival.[109] Panahi was awarded the Golden Bear for the film at the festival.[5]

It has been described as "a portrait of the Iranian capital Tehran"[110] and as a "documentary-like film is set in a Tehran taxi that is driven by Panahi."[111]


In December 2014 Panahi won a 2014 Motion Picture Association Academy Film Fund grant for $25,000 for the screenplay Flower (Gol). He was awarded the grant at the 8th annual Asia Pacific Screen Awards in Brisbane, Australia. The script is about disabled people in Iran and will be directed by Panahi's son Panah Panahi.[112] Panahi will be the executive producer of the film.[113] It has been described as exploring "the turmoil created by a father’s conviction that he must kill his disabled son to bring peace to his family. This challenging drama is drawn from real life, and brings home the plight of people with disabilities in Iran. This film will be directed by Jafar’s son, Panah, who is an emerging director of distinction and shares his father’s humanist concerns."[114]


Panahi at Cines del Sur in 2007

Panahi's style is often described as an Iranian form of neorealism.[115] Jake Wilson describes his films as connected by a "tension between documentary immediacy and a set of strictly defined formal parameters" in addition to "overtly expressed anger at the restrictions that Iranian society imposes".[116]

Panahi differs from his fellow realist filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami in the explicitness of his social critique. Stephen Teo wrote:

"Panahi's films redefine the humanitarian themes of contemporary Iranian cinema, firstly, by treating the problems of women in modern Iran, and secondly, by depicting human characters as 'non-specific persons'—more like figures who nevertheless remain full-blooded characters, holding on to the viewer's attention and gripping the senses. Like the best Iranian directors who have won acclaim on the world stage, Panahi evokes humanitarianism in an unsentimental, realistic fashion, without necessarily overriding political and social messages. In essence, this has come to define the particular aesthetic of Iranian cinema. So powerful is this sensibility that we seem to have no other mode of looking at Iranian cinema other than to equate it with a universal concept of humanitarianism."[117]

Panahi says his style can be described as "humanitarian events interpreted in a poetic and artistic way". "In a world where films are made with millions of dollars, we made a film about a little girl who wants to buy a fish for less than a dollar [The White Balloon]—this is what we're trying to show", he said.[54] Panahi has said that "in all of my films, you never see an evil character, male or female. I believe everyone is a good person."[118]

In an interview with Anthony Kaufman, Panahi said: "I was very conscious of not trying to play with people's emotions; we were not trying to create tear-jerking scenes. So it engages people's intellectual side. But this is with assistance from the emotional aspect and a combination of the two."[119]

Hamid Dabashi has called Panahi the least self-conscious filmmaker in the history of Iranian film[39] and said that his films represent a post-revolutionary Iranian outlook on itself,[120] calling Crimson Gold not just a history of a failed jewellery robbery "but also [a history] of recent Iranian history, the history of the failed Islamic revolution and the Iran-Iraq war in particular."[120]

Dabashi praises Panahi's restrained depiction of violence, saying that his "manner of showing violence without showing who has perpetrated it has now become a trademark of Panahi's cinema."[121] Dabashi specifically cites Razieh's brother in The White Balloon as clearly having been beaten in one scene, but only being given hints of the violence of Razieh's father from off screen. In The Circle Nargress has been beaten but we are never told why or by whom. Dabashi writes, "violence in Panahi's cinema is like a phantom: you see through it, but it lacks a source or physical presence—who has perpetrated it is made intentionally amorphous. The result is a sense of fear and anxiety that lurks in every frame of his film, but it is a fear without an identifiable referent."[121]

Some Iranians have criticized his work, claiming that his films "don't draw a realistic picture of Iran, or that the difficulties encountered by women in [his] films apply to only a certain class of women."[122]

Personal life[edit]

Panahi is married to Tahereh Saidi, whom he first met in college when she was working as a nurse.[11] They have a son, Panah Panahi, born in 1984,[11] and a daughter, Solmaz Panahi. Panah Panahi attended the University of Tehran[49] and in 2009 made his first short film, The First Film,[123] which was screened at the 2009 Montreal World Film Festival.[124] Solmaz studied theater in Tehran.[11]


Year Title Original Title Cast Notes
1995 The White Balloon Badkonake Sefid Aida Mohammadkhani, Mohsen Kafili, Fereshteh Sadre Orafaiy co-written with Abbas Kiarostami
1997 The Mirror Ayneh Mina Mohammadkhani, Kazem Mojdehi, Naser Omuni, Jafar Panahi
2000 The Circle Dayereh Nargess Mamizadeh, Fereshteh Sadre Orafaiy, Fatemeh Naghavi, Mojgan Faramarzi co-written with Kambuzia Partovi, banned in Iran before release
2003 Crimson Gold Talaye Sorkh Hossain Emadeddin, Kamyar Sheisi, Azita Rayeji co-written by Abbas Kiarostami, banned in Iran before release
2006 Offside Shima Mobarak-Shahi, Safar Samandar, Shayesteh Irani, Ayda Sadeqi, Golnaz Farmani co-written by Shadmehr Rastin, banned in Iran before release
2011 This Is Not a Film In film nist Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb co-directed by Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, made illegally
2013 Closed Curtain Pardeh Kambuzia Partovi, Maryam Moqadam, Jafar Panahi co-directed by Kambuzia Partovi, made illegally
2015 Taxi Jafar Panahi made illegally
2018 Three Faces Se Rokh Behnaz Jafari, Jafar Panahi as himself, Marziyeh Rezaei, Maedeh Erteghaei
2021 The Year of the Everlasting Storm Anthology film
2022 No Bears Khers Nist Jafar Panahi as himself, Naser Hashemi [fa], Vahid Mobsari, Bakhtiar Panjei, Mina Khosravani, Reza Heydari Also writer, producer and director; made illegally
Short Films
Year Title Original Title Notes
1988 The Wounded Heads Yarali Bashlar documentary
1991 Kish documentary
1992 The Friend Doust
The Last Exam Akharin Emtehan
1993 A Second Look Negah-E Dovom documentary
1997 Ardekoul documentary
2007 Untying the Knot part of the omnibus film Persian Carpet (Farsh-e Irani)
2010 The Accordion part of the THEN AND NOW Beyond Borders and Differences film series for Art for The World
Other work
Year Title Position Director
1991 The Fish Assistant director Kambuzia Partovi
1994 Through the Olive Trees Assistant director, actor Abbas Kiarostami
1997 Traveler from the South Editor Parviz Shahbazi
2005 Verdict Editor Masud Kimiai
Border Café Editor Kambuzia Partovi
2009 The White Meadows Editor Mohammad Rasoulof

Awards and honors[edit]


Year Organization Award Film
1995 48th Cannes Film Festival Prix de la Camera d'Or The White Balloon
1997 Locarno International Film Festival Golden Leopard The Mirror
2000 57th Venice International Film Festival Golden Lion The Circle
2003 Cannes Film Festival Prix du Jury – Un Certain Regard Crimson Gold[125]
2006 Berlin Film Festival Silver Bear - Jury Grand Prix Offside
2007 Valdivia International Film Festival Pudú Award for his life-time artistic accomplishments
2007 HIVOS HIVOS Cinema Unlimited Award
2011 Cannes Film Festival Carrosse d'Or This Is Not a Film
2011 Passion For Freedom London Festival Special Jury Prize This Is Not a Film
2012 The European Parliament Sakharov Prize
2013 Berlin International Film Festival Silver Bear for Screenwriting Closed Curtain
2014 Motion Picture Association Academy Film Fund grant Flower
2015 65th Berlin International Film Festival Golden Bear Taxi
2018 71st Cannes Film Festival Best Screenplay Three Faces
2022 79th Venice Film Festival Special Jury Prize No Bears

Film festival jury memberships[edit]

Year Festival Role
2001 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival Jury member
2007 International Eurasia Film Festival Jury member
2007 International Film Festival of Kerala Chair of the Jury
2008 Rotterdam Film Festival President of the Jury
2009 Montreal World Film Festival President of the Jury

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Dönmez-Colin, Gönül. Cinemas of the other: a personal journey with filmmakers from the Middle East and Central Asia. Intellect Books, Bristol, UK, 2006. ISBN 1-84150-143-3, pp. 90–96.
  • Dabashi, Hamid, Masters & Masterpieces of Iranian Cinema, Mage Publishers (15 May 2007) ISBN 0-934211-85-X
  • Stone, Judy. Eye on the World: Conversations with International Filmmakers. Silman-James Press, Los Angeles, 1997, ISBN 1-879505-36-3, pp. 385–387.

External links[edit]