Perspectives on Pop Culture and the Arts

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Propaganda against the system"

Over at The Guardian it was reported that Iranian director Jafar Panahi has been sentenced to six years in prison and is banned from directing, producing, writing, and anything else film related for 20 years. He was convicted of "colluding in gathering and making propaganda against the regime." This is a rather heavy blow to Panahi, especially, but also to the whole Iranian film community.

According to another article, a group of European filmmakers, stars, and critics have put together an online petition protesting Panahi's sentence and demanding it be changed. The petition claims,
Jafar is innocent and his only crime is wishing to continue to freely exercise his profession as a film-maker in Iran ... Through this sentence inflicted upon Jafar Panahi, it is manifestly all of Iranian cinema which is targeted.
That Panahi supported and distributed "propaganda against the system" seems possible - watch his films, it's in there. So there might be no way around the allegations of collusion against the state. Except he isn't being convicted because of his films, but allegedly for some other acts of "civil disobedience," which he might indeed be innocent of. Maybe the Iranian government works kinda like the Oscars, awarding you not for the film that deserves it, but rather for the film you most recently did. Never mind what Panahi's past films say, he's punished for whatever political statements he has said recently.

Yet his punishment attacks his role as a filmmaker, not as your average concerned citizen. And that's why his sentence is targeting all of Iranian cinema. At the very least, his sentence is a message to filmmakers, as well as all citizens, that the government means business (like we all didn't know that already), and that filmmakers need to behave in a government-approved fashion. Panahi (and fellow filmmaker Muhammad Rasoulof, also sentenced to six years prison) are examples to the whole community of what happens when you step out of line. This isn't a new government tactic, for opposition to filmmakers by the government has always existed. Film has always been both a tool of and threat to the State.

Panahi's sentence is being appealed, so who knows if things will play out differently for him. Hopefully so. In the meantime, I'd watch some Iranian films, but I don't actually own any (shame on me). I'll have to settle for The Lives of Others, which seems quite appropriate in light of Panahi's statement that, "When a film-maker 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." The government has punished him as a dissenting citizen, but his punishment targets his art, because his greatest political weapon is arguably his art, his films. Keeping an artist from their art does more than just snub a hobby, it damages their whole character. And in the case of a particularly good artist like Jafar Panahi, it hurts the entire community.


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