St Andrews in support of Jafar Panahi

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Last month, Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was sentenced to six years in prison and received a twenty year ban on writing or directing films, giving interviews to foreign media or foreign travel.

The charges for ‘propaganda against the state’ came after Panahi, famous for his gritty, social realist approach, was found to be making a film about the social unrest following the 2009 election in Tehran, when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected. Mohammed Rasoulof, a young filmmaker assisting Panahi, was also imprisoned. Panahi said of the sentence “when a filmmaker 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.”

Recognised as being a leading figure in the Iranian New Wave, Panahi’s films include The Circle which was awarded the ‘Golden Lion’ at the 2000 Venice Film Festival, and Offside, which won the ‘Silver Bear’ at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival.

His arrest has stirred a worldwide appeal, with Amnesty International fronting a protest against his imprisonment, along with huge backing from international filmmakers and organisations such as The Directors’ Guild. Meanwhile, around the world, film festivals and award ceremonies have been honouring the director.

At the Oscars, on the 27 February, white ribbons are to be worn on prominent display to show support. The Cannes Film Festival, last May, left an empty chair on the jury for Panahi when he was detained by the Iranian government. This month, a chair will be left empty on the jury of the Berlin Film Festival (10-20 February). In addition, the festival will showcase a series of Panahi’s films as well as hosting discussion panels on the topics of censorship and propaganda filmmaking. The festival director, Dieter Kosslick, said of the news “We are going to use every opportunity to protest against this drastic verdict.”

Closer to home, The Glasgow Short Film Festival, which opens this weekend, has dedicated itself to Jafar Panahi and will be screening his latest short The Accordion, a film inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Here in St Andrews, the independent filmmaking initiative The St Andrews Film Collective will be screening a series of six Panahi films over six weeks to celebrate his work. The first (Thursday 17 February, School 2, 6pm) will be Offside about a group of Iranian girls who disguise themselves as boys to be able to watch a football game. Funny and entertaining yet striking and subversive, the film represents some of today’s best Iranian cinema. As a number of Panahi’s films have been banned in his own country and Panahi’s filmmaking career has now been cut short, the recognition and appreciation of his work is of paramount importance.

The Saint caught up with festival organiser and founder of The Film Collective Adam Miklós to find out more: “At the Collective we try to see where the boundaries are with filmmaking, how far we can go, and we try to be very open minded about things. At the same time as screening his films, we will be setting a filmmaking challenge on the topic of censorship with the hope that over the six films you will gain a different perspective. Let’s see how people feel about something serious. I feel very privileged to have the time and the facilities to make it happen. I think the most optimistic thing to come out of this would be that other universities would do something similar. I think that’s how it starts.”

To find out more about the Jafar Panahi Film Festival in St Andrews, join the Facebook group, St Andrews Supports Jafar Panahi, to keep updated on the latest news and events.

Flossie Topping

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