Troubled Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s house arrest while awaiting news on a court appeal is documented in This Is Not a Film. Indeed document seems the most appropriate word to use, as the term filmmaking plagued by complicated and litigious issues.
The imprisonment of Panahi made news around the world. Filmmakers across international waters have stood up and called for Panahi’s release. More recent Iranian sentences have also caused worldwide protest such as the one year imprisonment and ninety lashings of My Tehran for Sale actress Marzieh Vafamehr (which was later reduced to three months on appeal).
A day in the life is shown after fellow filmmaker (and co-director of this effort) Mojtaba Mirtahmasb drops into Panahi’s Tehran home with a camera. The first half of the film seems intentionally slow, creating a stifling effect where we begin to realise what house arrest is like (especially for someone as eager and upwardly mobile as Panahi). Nice interruptions from the pet Iguana provided for a release of tension, if not even comic relief.
Picking up the pace, the second half becomes truly engrossing when Panahi and Mirtahmasb become self referential of their current actions. An encounter with a cleaner provides too tempting an offer for Panahi to resist the camera and he dips into what one could argue as using a camera for filmmaking purposes.
Panahi was sentenced to six years in prison as well as a twenty year ban on filmmaking, travelling and talking to the media. The news of the rejected appeal of the courts came only a day before the screening I attended. Panahi’s lawyer vehemently and convincingly argues over a phone call that his sentence is 100% politically motivated, and really does seem the case.
Incredible efforts were made to smuggle the documentary into the Cannes Film Festival via a USB stick in a cake via France, reminiscent of the planned smuggling that occurs in Julia, the adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s Pentimento. Except this actually happened (there was always widespread debate about the authenticity of Hellman’s work). This Is Not a Film is a fascinating and important film that really must be seen. It is a testament to the severely violated and fundamental human rights of Jafar Panahi and speaks volumes about the struggles for poetic freedom that Panahi heroically fights for.
This is Not a Film will be released on Thursday 10th November through Sharmill Films.