Some people cannot be silenced, and Jafar Panahi is certainly one of them. The veteran filmmaker has been creating films in Iran for many years, much to the chagrin of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, and while he enjoyed great early success and international renown, his persistent criticism of national treatment and human rights painted a target on him that he’s never been able to shake off. Most recently, Panahi used an opportunity to “make nice” with the government to take a platform, speaking out against thinly-veiled, state-sponsored propaganda.
Back in 2010, he made the news when he was sentenced to six years in prison, a 20-year ban on making movies, and forbidden from leaving the country. Accused of “assembly and colluding with the intention to commit crimes against the country’s national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic,” Panahi had been a vocal ally of the Green Movement and an open supporter of Hossein Mousavi during the 2009 election. His six year sentence was never completed, as the filmmaker committed to long hunger strikes in protest of his incarceration and treatment, and he was released on bail in the same year of his arrest.
This history has earned Panahi the distinction of “dissident filmmaker,” two descriptive words that accompany his name on most websites, and an honorific that isn’t fading anytime soon. Hossain Mahdavian, director of the film The Midday Event, was expecting to receive an honorary award at a ceremony, but Panahi refused, instead taking the opportunity to beseech those listening to support Iranian independent cinema. The Midday Event recounts the pursuit of political-militant organization People’s Mujahedin of Iran by IRGC intelligence, and was produced with direct funding from the IRGC.
It makes perfect sense that Panahi would be incensed at not only exalting an individual creating propaganda for his tormentors, but that these are the types of films that Iran will fund, spiting and limiting the reach of independent artists with more challenging fare. Furthermore, Panahi’s ban technically prohibits him from making films himself—a topic which fueled his seditious protest-documentary This Is Not A Film—and rewarding a work which glorifies the IRGC was arguably especially distasteful for him.
Rather than excuse himself, however, he used his opportunity in front of an audience to promote the back of independent artists in general, criticizing the distribution standards in Iran and “asking for a few theatres where we too can screen our films.”
Panahi’s most recent film, 2015’s Taxi—a renegade work filmed while the director literally drove a taxi through Tehran and recording himself with his passengers—has won numerous awards as of this writing.