Iran punishes 2 filmmakers for political speech. Jafar Panahi, Mohammad Rasoulof get 6 years

BY AUSTIN BURBRIDGE. LOS ANGELES (CINEMA MINIMA) — Two Iranian independent filmmakers were sentenced to six years in prison in Iran on Monday, December 20, 2010. The two directors — Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof — had been arrested at Mr Panahi’s house in March 2010. After incarceration, Mr Panahi, who is fifty years old, will be forbidden for twenty years from making films, writing screenplays, speaking to local or foreign media, and travel abroad.

The sentences were imposed on the two men for the purpose of punishing “assembly and collusion and propagandizing against the régime,” according to a report published in Iran by the Iranian Students News Agency. Each had spoken out against the Iranian government’s regulation of movie making. They had also publicly expressed support for the opposition to the régime during the last national elections.

Jafar Panahi is a well-known director. He has been celebrated for his successes at Berlin, Cannes, and Venice.

Mohammad Rasoulof is a respected writer, director, and producer. However — while Mr Rasoulof’s films have been acclaimed at festivals outside Iran — he is not a celebrity.

There have been many, well-publicized appeals by celebrities — Francis Coppola, Abbas Kiarostami, Martin Scorcese, and Steven Spielberg, among others — for the release of Mr Panahi. Some of the statements mention that Mohammad Rasoulof was hit with the same term of imprisonment for the same crime, and call for his release, as well. A petition is circulating, which has been subscribed by several French institutions, including the Cinémathèque française. It, too, mentions Mr Rasoulof.

However, few headlines or ledes mention that any filmmaker other than Mr Panahi had been sentenced in Iran last Monday. Twitter is littered with messages deploring the injustice to Jafar Panahi and calling for his release. Among the broad strokes of public discourse, the plight of his less-well-known colleague has been, for the most part, omitted, or relegated to the details of the Panahi story.

Although Mohammad Rasoulof is not so well-known as Panahi, he is a respected director of four features, several of which have been exhibited to good notices at international film festivals. His documentary, HEAD WIND, treats Iranian government restrictions on getting international movies and TV from satellite dishes, and restrictions on internet access. His latest film, THE WHITE MEADOWS, was released in 2009.

In his call for the release of the filmmakers, Abbas Kiarostami explained the significance of their work in Persian culture and its importance in a larger context –

Jafar Panahi and Mahmoud Rasoulof are two filmmakers of the Iranian independent cinema, a cinema that for the past quarter of a century has served as an essential cultural element in expanding the name of this country across the globe. They belong to an expanded world culture, and are a part of international cinematic culture.

I wish for their immediate release from prison knowing that the impossible is possible.

My heartfelt wishes are that artists no longer be imprisoned in this country because of their art; and that the independent and young Iranian cinema would no longer face obstacles, or lack of support and attention, or prejudice.

Since his arrest in March 2010, Mr Rasoulof has been at liberty on bail. During that time he has begun production of new movie. He remains free, pending appeal. He has twenty days from the date of the sentencing, to file an appeal.

Cinema Minima has created a basic Wikipedia article about Mohammad Rasoulof — readers are encouraged to make improvements to it.

UPDATE 2014 MARCH 30 — Unfortunately, agents of the Iranian régime have redacted and rewritten the Wikipedia article, so that it is now an unreliable and inaccurate account of Mohammed Rasoulof’s life and work.

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