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'This Is Not a Film' and Jafar Panahi Is Not a Director

by DAN GEIST

23 May 2011 01:28Comments

[ spotlight ] "We have a saying in Iran," says Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, "that when hairdressers get bored they cut each others' hair. That is what we were doing: filming one another." Mirtahmasb is Jafar Panahi's collaborator and cameraman on In Film Nist (This Is Not a Film), which was shot in March around Nowruz, the Persian New Year, and premiered this week at the Cannes Film Festival. If This Is Not a Film were a film, it would fall into the day-in-the-life documentary genre: it depicts Panahi in and around his home as he awaits the resolution of his mad fate.

This past December, Panahi, along with fellow filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof, was sentenced to six years in prison by a Tehran Revolutionary Court after his conviction on charges of "colluding with the intention to commit crimes against the country's national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic." His primary offense? Planning a fiction film about the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential election in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad retained the chief executive's office.

In addition to the prison term, Panahi -- director of The White Balloon (1995), The Mirror (1997), The Circle (2000), Crimson Gold (2003), and Offside (2006) -- has been barred for 20 years from making movies, writing screenplays, traveling abroad, and giving interviews. Although Panahi remains out of jail while the sentence is being appealed, the restrictions on his professional and social rights are in force.

Thus, just as the 75-minute This Is Not a Film is not a film, Panahi did not direct it. Smuggled into France on a USB stick hidden inside a cake (flavor unidentified to shield the identity of its baker and/or courier), it is officially credited as an "effort" by Panahi and Mirtahmasb. As for the rest of the credits, they give "Thanks to colleagues:" -- followed by a blank screen -- and "Many thanks to:" -- followed by another.

At one point, as Mirtahmasb shoots, Panahi says, "Go on, cut." "You can't direct," his collaborator replies. "It's an offense." Indeed. In the absurd, incredible, but very real world of This Is Not a Film, What isn't?

Homepage: An image from "This Is Not a Film," with Panahi standing in front of an image from a film he directed when he could direct films, "Crimson Gold."

This Is Not a Film reviews | indieWIRE | Hollywood Reporter | Variety

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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