[Reader-list] Iranian Filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami Speaks Out on Prisoners

Shuddhabrata Sengupta shuddha at sarai.net
Thu Mar 11 00:27:14 IST 2010

Dear All,

The situation in Iran continued to be in turmoil. The besieged,  
cynical, repressive regime that currently holds power in the name of  
an Islamic Republic has continued to face stiff opposition from  
Iranians from all walks of life, and so it continues to oppress them.  
Recently, the well known Iranian filmmaker, Jafar Panahi, has been  
arrested. Below is a report (from a blog associated with the New York  
Times) on his arrest, and a letter written in protest against his  
detention by Abbas Kiarostami, a much admired Iranian filmmaker. Many  
of us (especially at Sarai) have had occasion to see and enjoy the  
work of Panahi and Kiarostami. I hope that you will all join me in  
condemning this sad turn of events, and hope for the early demise of  
the repressive regime fronted by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his cynical  



Iranian Filmmaker Speaks Out on Prisoners
By Robert Mackey

The Lede, The New York Times Blog

March 9, 2010, 5:31 pm

Abbas Kiarostami, a celebrated Iranian filmmaker who has won numerous  
international awards for films like “ Close-Up” and “ Through The  
Olive Trees,” published an open letter in a Tehran newspaper on  
Tuesday calling for the release of Jafar Panahi and Mahmoud Rasoulof,  
two directors recently detained by the authorities.

Mr. Kiaorstami sent the original, Persian-language text of his letter  
and an English translation to The Lede from Iran through a mutual  
friend, Hooman Majd, the author of “The Ayatollah Begs to Differ.”  
The complete text of the translation is below. The original text is  
available for download.

Mr. Panahi, who has directed two films scripted by Mr. Kiarostami,  
“The White Balloon,” and “ Crimson Gold,” was arrested last week, as  
my colleague Nazila Fathi reported.

In an interview uploaded to YouTube, he discussed the event that  
inspired his 2006 film “ Offside,” which is about a group of Iranian  
women who want to be allowed to watch a soccer match.

According to The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, a  
source close to him said: “Over the past years, Ministry of  
Intelligence authorities have summoned Jafar Panahi to different  
investigation offices of the Ministry in different locations and have  
questioned him. In one of these meetings he was told, ‘Just because  
you are a famous filmmaker, you mustn’t think that we are unable to  
arrest you. We can arrest you whenever we decide.’”

Here is the complete text of Mr. Kiarostami’s open letter, written in  
response to that arrest.

"...I don’t quite know to whom I am addressing this letter, but I do  
know why I’m writing it and I believe that under the circumstances it  
is both critical and inevitable because two Iranian filmmakers, both  
of whom are vital to the Iranian wave of independent cinema, have  
been incarcerated.

As a filmmaker of the same independent cinema, it has been years  
since I lost hope of ever screening my films in my country. By making  
my own low-budget and personal films, it has also been years since I  
lost all hope of receiving any kind of aid or assistance from the  
Ministry of Guidance and Islamic culture, the custodian of Iranian  

In order to make a living, I have turned to photography and use that  
income to make short and low-budget films. I don’t even object to  
their illegal reproduction and distribution because that is my only  
means of communicating with my own people. For years now I have not  
even objected to this lack of attention from the ministry and cinema  
tic authorities .

Even if we choose to disregard the fact that for years now, the  
cinematic administrators of the country, who constitute the main  
cultural body of the government, have differentiated between their  
own filmmakers (insiders) and independent filmmakers (outsiders), I  
am still of the opinion that they are oblivious of Iranian  
independent cinema. Filmmaking is not a crime. It is our sole means  
of making a living and thus not a choice, but a vital necessity.

I have found my own solutions to the problem. Independent of the  
conventional and customary support granted to the cinematic community  
at large, I make my own short and independent films with hopes of  
gaining some credit for the people I love and a name for the country  
I come from. Sometimes the necessity to work calls for the making of  
films beyond the borders of my country, which is ultimately not out  
of personal choice or taste.

However, others, like Jafar Panahi, have for years tried to summon  
official government support, exploring the same frustrating path,  
only to be confronted with the same closed doors. He too has for  
years held hopes of obtaining public screenings for his films and  
receiving official aid and assistance from the relevant governmental  
bodies. He still believes that based on the merits of his films and  
the acclaim they have brought the country, he can seek legal  
solutions to the problem. The Ministry of Guidance and Islamic  
culture is directly responsible for what is happening to Jafar Panahi  
and his like. Any wrongdoing on his part, if there is any at all, is  
a direct result of the mismanagement of officials at the cinematic  
department of the Ministry of Guidance and it’s inadequate policies  
which in no way leave any choice for the filmmaker other than to  
resort to means that jeopardize his situation as a filmmaker. He too  
makes a living through cinema.
For him too, filmmaking is a vital necessity. He needs to make  
himself heard and has the right to expect cinematic officials to  
facilitate the process, rather than become the major obstacles  
themselves. Perhaps the officials at the ministry can not at present  
be of help in solving Jafar Panahi’s dilemma, but they need to know  
that they are and have been responsible all these years, for the  
dreadful consequences and unpleasant and anti-cultural reflections of  
such policies in the world media.

I may not be an advocate of Jafar Panahi’s radical and sensational  
methods but I do know that the cause for his plight is not a result  
of choice but an inevitable [compulsion].

He is paying for the conduct of officials who have for years closed  
all doors on him, leaving open small passages and dead end paths.

Jafar Panahi’s problem will eventually be solved but there are  
numerous young people who have chosen the art of cinema as their  
means of expression and careers.

This is where the duty of the government and the Ministry of Guidance  
and Islamic Culture, as the government’s main cultural body, becomes  
even more critical, for they face a large group of Iranian youth who  
aim to work independently and away from complicated official  
procedures and existing prejudices.

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 wish is that artists no longer be  
imprisoned in this country because of their art and that the  
independent and young Iranian cinema no longer faces obstacles, lack  
of support, attention and prejudice.
This is your responsibility and the ultimate definition of your  

Abbas Kiarostami / 1388.12.18 [March 9, 2010] / Tehran

Even though his films have been banned in Iran for years, Mr.  
Kiarostami, who recently made his first film abroad, dismissed the  
idea of leaving Iran permanently in an interview with The National,  
an Abu Dhabi newspaper, in October. “I don’t believe in leaving my  
home,” he told the newspaper. “The place where I sleep well at night  
is my home. We make films in order to live. No matter under whatever  
conditions, my home, at the end of a dead end, is where I’ve been  
living, and there’s nothing that’s persuaded me yet to leave it.”

He added that in the face of difficulties, such as those confronting  
Iran’s filmmakers today, “It just depends on what your reaction is in  
the face of things that don’t appeal to you. You can find shelter in  
alcohol and opium. You might get depressed. Or you can think, since  
I’m not going to do those things, what can I do?”
In the same interview, Mr. Kiarostami was asked to comment on the  
decision of another Iranian filmmaker, Bahman Ghobadi, to leave Iran.  
“Based on what I’ve witnessed of Iranians leaving Iran, I haven’t  
seen a very positive outcome,” he replied. “I have no criticism of  
anybody else that should choose to leave their home…. If Bahman  
Ghobadi believes that he will make films under better conditions  
outside of Iran, I only congratulate and praise him. So long as he  
does make them.”

As my colleague Michael Slackman reported in January, Mr. Ghobadi  
took that as an attack of some sort and wrote a furious open letter  
denouncing Mr. Kiarostami for not taking a political stand against  
Iran’s government. In an email message to The Lede, Mr. Kiarostami  
said that his remarks about Mr. Ghobadi were not in any way an attack  
on him.

Shuddhabrata Sengupta
The Sarai Programme at CSDS
shuddha at sarai.net

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