Friday, August 24, 2012

This Is Not a Film

Cinema is reported to have come to Persia in the early 20th century. The first Persian film maker was Mirza Ebrahim Khan Akkas Bashi, the official photographer of the Shah at that time, Muzaffar al-Din Shah. In July 1900, while the Shah was visiting Europe, Akkas was able to acquire a film camera to record the events of the trip. From the time of Muzaffar al-Din Shah until present day, over 100 years later, the Iranian film community has flourished.
The events of the Islamic revolution in 1979 have served to create two distinct time periods in Iranian film. Pre-Reveloutionary Cinema and Post-Revolutionary Cinema.  Although subsidies for Iranian made films continued post-revolution, many great film makers were forced into exile as Khomeini altered the focus of feature film, imposed strict censorship and banned any western made films from entering the country. It can be said that one of the main reason Iranian film makers have developed such a distinct style of story telling, one that has become internationally celebrated, is this ban on western made films, as is the case in China. Although unlike Iran, which seems to be retreating more and more into extreme religious and cultural intolerance, China has been gradually easing bans while retaining their own district style.
To see a current example of the Iranian regimes extreme fear, bigotry and intolerance one needs look no further than Iranian Director, Jafar Panahi's, latest film This Is Not a Film.  Panahi is a highly regarded director around the world but his films are banned in his home country.  After years of conflict with the local government over the content of his films, in March 2010, the authorities stormed into his house and arrested him along with his wife daughter and 15 of his friends.  In December 2010 Panahi was sentenced to six years in jail and a 20 year ban on directing, writing screenplays, giving any form of interview with Iranian or foreign media and from leaving the country.
This film takes place over the course of one day in the life of a director who is being artistically suffocated.  Under house arrest and clearly feeling like his purpose for living has been taken away from him he does the only thing he knows how to do .....make a film..... and smuggle it out of the country inside a cake.
Using clips from two of his earlier films Panahi shows us that his favourite moments were unscripted, undirected and took their cue from the real world.  To capture moments like these you need freedom, which is exactly what he doesn't have.

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