Iran punishes two directors: One, famous; the other, not

Two Iranian independent filmmakers were sentenced to six years in prison in Iran on Monday, December 20, 2010. One — Jafar Panahi — has been celebrated for his successes at Berlin, Cannes, and Venice; the other — 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.

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.

There have been many calls for the release of Panahi by celebrities, such as Francis Coppola, Martin Scorcese, and Steven Spielberg. Some of the statements mention that Mohammad Rasoulof was also sentenced to six years, and call for his release. A petition is circulating, which has been subscribed by several French institutions, including as the Cinémathèque française. It, too, mentions 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, but the plight of his less-well-known colleague has been — for the most part — omitted.

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.

To his credit, Abbas Kiarostami has called for the release of Rasoulof as well as that of Panahi

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.

The petition for Panahi mentions Rasoulof — but is that enough? Should there be a separate petition, particular to the less-famous filmmaker? Or, is the expectation behind the focus on the more famous director, that the release of Panahi implies the release of Rasoulof?

A petition may have no practical effect. It is unlikely that a petition could sway the course of nearly any judicial proceeding in any country: A court system that claims to be impartial must assure litigants that it would not be influenced by popular sentiment.

Perhaps the petition and the attendant calls for release are intended to influence politicians — assuming that Iranian politicians have some power to adjust (or trump) a court decision, in the way that, for example, a U. S. president can intervene to grant clemency or pardon. Given the peculiar informality of Iran’s government, that may very well be true.

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