Iran Protests Berlin Festival Award for Jafar Panahi’s 'Closed Curtain'

2:49 AM PST 02/20/2013 by Clarence Tsui
"Closed Curtain"

The country's top cinema regulator describes the film as an “illegal act” and demands the Berlinale “correct their behavior” after awarding the best screenplay honor to the banned filmmaker.

HONG KONG –- Iranian authorities have logged a protest with the Berlin International Film Festival for giving its best screenplay prize to Jafar Panahi and Kamboziya Partovi’s Closed Curtain, according to a report from one of the country’s leading news agencies.

“We believe that the Berlin fest organizers should correct their behavior. Everyone knows that making a film and sending it outside the country needs permission,” said Javad Shamaqdari, Iran’s deputy culture minister and the country’s cinema chief in a report on the Iranian Students’ News Agency, according to The Guardian.

“Making these films is illegal, but so far the Islamic Republic has shown patience towards such illegal acts,” he added.

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Arrested in the aftermath of the mass demonstrations after the 2009 presidential elections -- in which the incumbent, the conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was declared the winner amid widespread accusations of vote fraud -- Panahi was detained, imprisoned and then subjected to a 20-year filmmaking ban for making “anti-government propaganda”.

Panahi had flouted the ban before, with 2011's This Is Not a Film, a piece shot nearly entirely in his apartment (he was under house arrest at the time) and revolves around his reflections on cinema and the social and political conditions of his country. The film reportedly was smuggled out of Iran in a USB device hidden inside a cake, and it premiered at Cannes.

Shot in a house by the Caspian Sea, Closed Curtain revolves around a screenwriter (played by Partovi, who co-directed the film with Panahi) on the run for owning a dog deemed unclean by the authorities, and a young woman (Maryam Moghadam) evading the police after a night out at the beach. After a night of tense exchanges inside the house, the film takes a surreal turn as Panahi appears, playing a version of himself as he contemplates his professional and personal banishment with his neighbors as the two original characters look on, unseen by the “real” individuals.

Panahi was not present at Berlin to receive the award with Partovi, who said onstage Saturday night: “It is impossible to stop a thinker and a poet. Their thoughts bear fruit everywhere.”

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It remains to be seen whether Partovi, Moghadam and the film’s cast and crew will be censured for their participation in the film. Speaking at a press conference before the film’s premiere at the Berliner Palast last week, the director sidestepped questions about possible repercussions when they return home. “There’s nothing we can really expect – nothing has happened up until now,” he said.

The cultural thaw which emerged under the liberal Mohammed Khatami – who served as Iran’s president from 1997 to 2005 – has long given way since the election of the religious hardliner Ahmadinejad and the tightening of social control under the country’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. Filmmakers such as Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Bahman Ghobadi have since gone into exile for speaking out against the conservative administration and Ahmadinejad’s crackdown on the oppositional Green Movement after his re-election in 2009.

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The Tehran authorities have also been skeptical about the international acclaim being furnished on Iranian directors at international film festivals. When Ashgar Farhadi’s A Separation won the Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear in 2010 and then the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award last year, the overall positive tone in official discourse was also marred by occasional commentary in the state-backed media, with a conservative film critic describing, on television, the marital-breakdown drama as “a dirty picture of Iranians that Western audiences are wishing for”.

Iran has refused to submit an entry to the Academy Awards 2013 to protest against Innocence of Muslims. The film, which portrayed the prophet Muhammad in a bad light and made broad accusations about the Islamic faith in general, led to deadly riots across North Africa and the Middle East. Tehran accused Washington of providing implicit backing of the film, despite U.S. president Barack Obama’s vocal condemnation of it.

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