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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Where Farmers Fear

BY SUDDHASATYA GHOSH. KOLKATA, INDIA (CINEMA MINIMA) — Vidarbha is a region in the state of Maharastra in India. Poor India, that is Bharat resides here for too long. This belt, which have mountain, river, plateau and plain, is consisted of mostly tribal peoples like Gonds and Korkus. Population distribution has been according to the topographical nature. Where it is steep and hazardous that is less populated and when river and fertile plain gives a comfort there is an increase in it. But the most important part of topography is soil structure. 75% of the land in Vidarbha has black soil which can be classified into three major categories like shallow black, medium black and deep black and rainfall is between 898.4 to 1314 mm annually. Coefficient of variability of rainfall is between 23-26% . This land has not developed in irrigation much and that has divided the pattern of crops. Well irrigated areas are small, but affords higher population (average of 150 persons per Km) who live by the support of Paddy agriculture . Cotton or millet crop supports the average of less than 100 persons per Km in less populated and less irrigated areas.

Cotton needs black soil. Once British colonial rulers had cotton from this land to the mills of Lancashire in cheap and made huge profit out of that. But the condition of farmers had hardly improved. Even after independence farmers were strangled time and again by the middlemen and money lenders. Various banks under the auspice of Indian government were supposed to support the farmers through loan for seeds, tractors or tilling means. But it almost remained in paper. Yet these farmers had continued their survival in a hard uncomplaining way. In the last few years situation had taken a dramatic turn. On 30th June, 2006 one Ramdas Ganpat Bhagat had committed suicide only to join his name in the list of more than 1600 farmers who died allegedly by being debt ridden. The then prime minister of India Mr. Manmohan Singh was supposed to visit that region at that time.

Ramdas took that poison actually which India took under the Congress regime by signing GATT. Prime minister of now a days India, MR. Manmohan Singh, was finance minister then. He was earlier an employee of World Bank. He lead the triumvirate that includes Mr. Pranab Mukharjee and Mr. P.Chidambaram to open up India to neo-liberal policies. In today’s Congress regime too Mr. Mukharjee is finance minister and Mr. Chidambaram is home minister of India. Mr. Singh has excelled to the post of Premiership. Trio is active and India is waiting to face the onslaught of another open up process.

Chandan Bhaduri, a David from West Bengal has taken up to fight this Goliath with a documentary ‘Where Farmers Fear’. He had been to Vidarbha at that period when one after another suicide were taking place. He strenuously investigated the whole causalities and came to a conclusion that India’s so-called liberal economy is responsible for this. Cotton exporter India has been reduced to a mino by the import syndrome. India and other developing countries are yet to open up the interim markets of United States of America and his allies. They has failed till date to pursue these big states to stop subsidizing their farmers,  whereas they themselves had to stop it immediately after signing the treaty. In India banks are playing to neo-liberal dictates and are not providing loans to farmers in most possible occasions. Thus they are being thrown to the hands of vulture money lenders who squeezes a steep interest from them. Governments, as usual, deny this and Chandan’s penetration in the heart of this issue proves that the government is lying.

In a part of his documentary we meet a village which is for sell in it’s entirety. It has no water, no electricity, no food, no health-centre or care. It had lands that are dry now. It had failed crops and broken inhabitants. One of them is sitting idly on road whom Chandan encounters. He vomits all his bitterness in a missive missile attack. He has lost hope. He now does not regard any institution or good will. It all seems a farce to him. This could have been the case of another state of India too. In Kerala farmers were doing almost the same thing. Coffee, a cash crop, had ruined them due to lack of rain and governmental policies. But the state of Kerala under the commission of Mr. Prabhat Patnayak, an economist who is noted for his anti-liberal stand, had combated it successfully. The Kerala government of Mr. Acchyutanandan had waived crores of rupee loans from the sagging shoulder of distressed farmers. They were using psychologists to strengthen the nerves of depressed farmers.

The Maharastra government under the leadership of Mr. Sharad Pawar, who is India’s minister of Agriculture, Food and Consumer Affairs, are sending so-called godmans to help farmers. This government is ready to provide outworldy solution rather than an actual one. Mr. Pawar and his party NCP (Nationalist Congress Party), a Congress ally, is backing government’s economical policies.  He himself is busy with the affairs of BCCI (Board of Cricket Control in India) and is prompt to announce a bulky prize money to players who will hit sixes in T20 tournament of IPL (Indian Premier League). He had been accused by oppositions in number of occasions in Chandan’s documentary as being hand in glove with Monsanto Corporation, the giant seed company whose genetic engineering and its business is under suspicion worldwide. The region of Vidarbha is facing the consequences of his act too. Resistances in the local levels are growing, but yet not so strong to derail the whole process of so-called liberalization.

Chandan’s movie has been an witness to all these varied and valuable truths.He himself is a man who has a defect in his walking. But surely he walks with his head held high. He has the courage to hold the mirror to a naked king. When he met that lonely, bitter fellow in the village which is ready for an outright sell, he asked him whether that fellow is satisfied with the governance. The man is intoxicated with local and cheap variety of alcoholic substance. He barely can stand. But after another burst of missives he asked in a clear and penetrating manner, “How we will live brother!”

That is the question India, that is Bharat and not signing, is asking for decades and no body from the ruling class is paying heed to that. Chandan Bhaduri, with his often slow fade in and outs and dissolves and often quick cuts, jump cuts is carrying these questions to an illuminating human documentation. This movie is one of the strongest and honest documentary made in India in the recent past and kudos to Chandan for that.

Remixed Movies at the Open Video Conference

BY MARTIN LEDUC. TORONTO, CANADA (CINEMA MINIMA) — I got to help collect some of the videos that were playing throughout the Open Video Conference.  The conference took place on June 19-20, 2009.  It brought together an impressive collection of professional stakeholders involved with online video. Their aim was to bring video technology up to the standards of accessibility and decentralization that are currently available for blogs and other web tools.

For the video displays that were playing throughout the conference,  I collected 10 technically and artistically accomplished movie remixes that showcase the value of an open video environment.  The artists I chose take a wide range of  approaches to editing pre-existing movie footage.

Blogger, video remixer, and cultural activist Elisa Kreisinger also curated remix videos that demonstrate the political importance of fair use and open video standards.

You can visit to watch online versions of all the videos Elisa and I screened at the conference.

Open Video Alliance call for submissions and proposals

BY MARTIN LEDUC. TORONTO, CANADA (CINEMA MINIMA)  — The Yale Law School and its partners in the Open Video Alliance are seeking to bring together about 400 participants for a conference in New York.  The organizers hope to bring online video up to the standards of accessibility and decentralization that we’ve reached with other forms of web communication (blogs, email, etc. …).

The conference is accepting submissions of movies and video art that will “showcase the creative potential of artists in the open video space.”  They’re also accepting proposals for panels, workshops and other events.  The deadline is March 19, 2009.

CopyCamp copyright conference in Toronto 2008 April 29-30

BY MARTIN LEDUC. TORONTO, ONTARIO CANADA (CINEMA MINIMA) — The second session of CopyCamp will take place 2008 April 29 – 30 in Toronto. The conference treats art, copyright, and the Internet. It follows an “unconference” model in which activities would be organized by all participants online via wiki, or spontaneously at the event. The 2006 CopyCamp had brought together a number of filmmakers, artists, activists, lawyers, and other stakeholders in copyright. Registration information for the event is available at its Web site.