Cannes Festival: Iran's imprisoned filmmakers

May 14, 2010

At last year's Cannes International Film Festival in May, 2009, the word from Iran was that something exciting was about to happen with new upcoming elections. Unfortunately, few could predict that disputed elections, mass street protests, and waves of repression were soon to follow. At the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, one of Iran's most famous filmmakers, Jafar Panahi, Director of The Circle, Crimson Gold, Offside and other award-winning films, is imprisoned. He was arrested during the shoot of an unofficial feature with filmmaker-friend, Mohammad Rasoulof. After mortgaging his house to put down considerable bail money, Rasoulof was released. Panahi remains in jail. Most recently, the FIPRESCI, the international film critics association headquartered in Munich, called for his release. According to some Iranians, here in Cannes, Panahi was offered the same deal as Rasoulof: pay considerable bail as security and take a vow of silence about his imprisonment, but he refused. Panahi's belief is that his imprisonment in Iran can help draw attention to the large-scale imprisonment of thousands of journalists and other dissenters inside Iran, forgotten by the international community. According to a recent Amnesty International report, more than 2,000 journalists are inside Iranian jails. One of the most interesting cases thus far is that of another Iranian filmmaker and journalist, Mohammad Nourizad. Unlike Panahi, Nourizad was a propagandist for the Islamic government and a close associate of Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Nourizad made propaganda films for television and wrote a regular column for the hard-line newspaper, Kayhan, considered an official mouthpiece for the Supreme Leader. Nourizad wrote a letter to Khamenei denouncing the disputed Iranian elections which returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power, and the brutal repression of peaceful demonstrations. Kayhan, offered Nourizad a deal to apologize on Iranian state television in exchange for his release, but he refused. He's now been sentenced to two years in prison and 80 lashes. The repression of Iran's democratic movement was evident most recently in the execution of five people in Tehran's notorious Evin prison. Among the 4 men and 1 women executed, one was a 28-year old elementary school teacher arrested for writing an article whose trial lasted 6 minutes. Neither his lawyer nor family was aware of the death sentence. The executed woman was Kurdish and did not speak Farsi. She signed a confession without understanding what it said, did not understand what was being said at her trial, and despite her denials, was accused of being a member of the Kurdish separatist organization, PEJAK. In a smuggled letter she wrote from prison, she said she was tortured, her hair had turned white, and she lost much of her eyesight. Iranians feel that much of the human tragedy that continues inside Iran is ignored by the Western press, which instead chooses to focus on the nuclear standoff. Comparing the terrorism the Ahmadinejad government has imposed upon its own people to the situation in apartheid South Africa, many Iranians want strategic, diplomatic and political sanctions against Iran, focused not just on the possession of uranium, but on human rights. This is Milos Stehlik of Facets Multi-Media from the 2010 Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France.
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