Iran continues to lash out at film industry

Sunday, October 16, 2011

2007 file photo of Jafar Panahi.
Image: Cines del Sur Granada Film Festival.

An Iranian court in Tehran yesterday confirmed film director Jafar Panahi's sentence to six years in jail, and a twenty-year ban on filmmaking. Charges against the award-winning director were summarised by state media as, "[...] acting against national security and propaganda against the regime".

In September, before the original sentence was handed down, Panahi lamented, "[w]hen a film-maker does not make films it is as if he is jailed. Even when he is freed from the small jail, he finds himself wandering in a larger jail". With the ban now in-place, the filmmaker's This is not a Film, which premièred at Canne Film festival, may be his last work for two decades. The handheld-shot documentary covers Panahi' struggle with censorship whilst being prosecuted.

Panahi's is the second high-profile case this week; actress Marzieh Vafamehr was sentenced to 90 lashes and one year in jail for starring in the controversial Australian-produced film My Tehran For Sale, directed by Iranian-Australian Granaz Moussavi. The film is about a young Tehrani actress whose work is banned by the government.

Is government censorship of the arts ever acceptable?

Iranian commentators heavily criticised the film, which is being distributed illegally in Iran, and in July Vafamehr was arrested. Producers Julie Ryan and Kate Croser state they "did not set out to produce a political film." Stressing, "[w]e definitely didn't set out to make a film that criticised the government". The role played by Vafemehr shows her with a shaved head, and without a hijab.

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd's office issued a statement condemning Vafemehr's sentence.