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Jafar Panahi: jailed Iranian director who won hearts in Europe

Acclaimed Iranian director Jafar Panahi, jailed as part of a crackdown on the country’s filmmakers, for years defied a ban on his work to carry on making deeply human tales of Iran’s social and cultural struggles that won a loyal following abroad. The ingenuity he demonstrated in getting his films made and smuggled out of Iran to foreign distributors and film festivals became the stuff of legend. A year after being handed a 20-year ban on…



For years, Jafar Panahi defied a ban on his work to continue making deeply human tales of Iran’s social and cultural struggles that won a loyal following in the West, despite being jailed as part of a crackdown on the country’s filmmakers.

Smuggling his films to distributors and film festivals around the world is now a myth thanks to the ingenuity he displayed in accomplishing this.

Following a 20-year ban from making films, he sent a documentary to Cannes on a flash drive hidden in a cake, with the cheeky title “This is Not a Film.”

In 2010, he told AFP, “Why should it be a crime to make a movie?” Filmmakers are “jailed” when they don’t make films.


When Panahi, a 62-year-old Iranian filmmaker, supported mass anti-government protests a year earlier and made a series of films critical of modern Iran, he was banned from making movies and exiled from Iran in 2010.

He was sentenced to six years in prison for “propaganda against the system,” but he served only two months before being released on bail.

Since then, Iranian authorities have appeared to tolerate his disregard for the rules as long as his films do not appear to be explicitly political in nature.

A group of filmmakers’ protests on July 11 led to his arrest and subsequent order to serve the sentence that had been hanging over him since 2010 in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. That tolerance ended on July 11.


Iran’s judiciary spokesman Massoud Setayeshi said Tuesday, “Panahi had been sentenced in 2010 to a total of six years in prison… and therefore he was entered into Evin detention center to serve his sentence there.”

Third Iranian director detained this month, alongside Mostafa Aleahmad and Mohammad Rasoulof, who won the Golden Bear for his film “There Is No Evil” in Berlin in 2020, has been arrested.

In Europe, the Berlin and Cannes film festivals condemned the crackdown on free speech and called for the directors’ release after they were arrested.

To learn more about Rasoulof’s situation, Panahi went to the prosecutor’s office.


In May, he and Rasoulof had written an open letter denouncing the arrests of several colleagues in their native country.

An Iranian film crew led by Rasoulof sparked outrage in the country’s Khuzestan province on May 23 when the 10-story building collapsed, killing at least 43 people.

On the dashboard, there is a camera

Abbas Kiarostami’s protege, Iranian New Wave filmmaker Jafar Panahi, grew up in Tehran’s slums and is one of its most prominent exponents.


This filmmaker’s films are influenced by the social realities of his native country and feature non-professional actors prominently.

In 1995, his first feature film, “The White Balloon,” took home the Camera d’Or at Cannes, where he also won the Jury Prize for “Blood and Gold” in 2003 and the Best Screenplay award in 2018 for his road movie “3 Faces,” which follows three generations of Iranian actresses.

He won the Berlin Film Festival’s top prize for “Taxi,” a film that was secretly filmed with a camera attached to the dashboard of his taxi.

It’s a fascinating glimpse into everyday life in the Islamic Republic as he chats with his niece’s aspiring filmmaker, an old woman with a fishbowl, a lawyer who has been barred from practicing her profession, and a badly injured man who is making his will on the backseat.


However, Panahi has always maintained that he has no desire to leave Iran, even if it means he can’t attend premieres of his films or collect awards.

According to him, “I am in love with my country and would never want to live anywhere else.”