While in college at VCU I took a course on Iranian Cinema. I had never seen a film made or produced in Iran, but by the end of the semester, I was able to discuss major subjects, themes, and directors from that secretive country. Names like Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhbalbaff, and Jafar Panahi may not be familiar to Western audiences, but to film enthusiasts and especially Persian viewers, they are immensely talented auteurs—filmmakers who challenge social norms and make films that push both cinematic and cultural boundaries.
Jafar Panahi is one of the greats of Iranian Cinema. Movies like The White Balloon, Offside, and The Circle have cemented his identity as the premiere director of his generation, established him as an outspoken critic because of a realistic focus on humanitarian issues, and have won him numerous awards. His recent works have told the story of the problems facing modern-day Iran, and it is one of those works that landed him in a political purgatory.
Panahi began work on a film in 2008, but due to his support of the Opposition Party in national elections, he was sentenced to six years in prison, was banned from talking to foreign press for twenty years, and banned from making movies for twenty years.
Supporters of Panahi secretly shot interviews on an iPhone for a documentary on his artistic and political struggle. It was smuggled out of Iran in a cake, and This Is Not A Film became a last-minute submission at Cannes, the premier awards event for film. Panahi is currently under house arrest, but still manages, somehow, to share his art with the world.
This Is Not A Film is opening in select theaters this year, and features a simple premise: an artist, bored, filming his life, his artistic desires and dreams, ideas, phone conversations; anything to keep his creativity from coming unraveled. This (un)film covers a wide range of issues, showing the difficulty and hypocrisy Panahi faces as he tries to live in a country and culture that he dearly loves, but desperately wants to change.
I was truly inspired by this. His story shows that as artists and as creatives, if we want to make film (or any type of art) that really makes a difference, we have to fight for it. We have to create the life that we want to live, and live the life that we’ve struggled to create. Boldness, tenacity, and honesty in art are culturally reflective devices. Jafar Panahi is a shining example of honest filmmaking that defies both the literal and cinematic boundaries of his life, and of his work.
To see the website and a list of theaters showing This Is Not A Film, click here.