One filmmaker is the thorn in an authoritarian state’s side–can you guess which one? As everyone knows by now Jafar Panahi was handed down a harsh sentence by the Iranian government. This kind of puts the profession of filmmaker back into perspective, doesn’t it? According to Farideh Gheirat, this lawyer, the “Offside” director got six years in jail and will be forbidden to make movies, write scripts or leave the country for the next twenty years. “The sentence is so harsh because the judge said that Panahi had been persistent in his actions,” the lawyer said. “It is unacceptable.”
A firestorm of protest led by important personalities, most recently Martin Scorcese who issued a statement in support of the filmmaker’s release, has inevitably followed. I say “inevitably” for a number of reasons, chief among them the filmmaker’s popularity and his enormous talent. Few other Iranian directors can boast of having had their movies seen abroad and be taken seriously by the arthouse crowd. And then there’s the sheer idiocy of handing down jail sentences to a moviemaker, even the militant ones. Panahi hasn’t been afraid to speak out about the current regime, appearing at protests and openly supporting the “Green movement” which followed the rigged elections of June 2009.
Some have interpreted this unusually harsh verdict as Tehran sending a clear warning. Yes, that much is clear. But for what? What could happen that hasn’t already? As long as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in place, Iran will have an image problem. Allowing Panahi to make his movies won’t change much of that. And winning awards abroad, such as when Panahi won the Golden Lion at Venice in 2000 for “The Circle” does wonders for countries that are not part of the developed world, I should think. It’s win-win, so why all this posturing on the part of the Iranian government when all that that will cause is general condemnation?
I tend to think that the sentence isn’t for real. For one, it’s so out of proportion with the so-called offenses, which are non-existent anyway. And besides, Iran, not the Crown Jewel in terms of “How To Run A Government 101,” has a tendency to drag its feet when enforcing laws. I would be surprised if Panahi actually ended up serving out the whole sentence.
Here’s what I think. We won’t be seeing another Panahi movie again, and that is the worst possible thing.