Hollywood Voices Support for Imprisoned Iranian Filmmaker Jafar Panahi

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In the wake of news Wednesday that an Iranian appeals court has upheld a six-year jail sentence and 20-year filmmaking and travel ban against acclaimed film director Jafar Panahi, a number of top U.S. entertainment industry organizations and guilds have come out strongly in his support.

They are also decrying the fate of other filmmakers in Iran who have been imprisoned, harassed or who face government barriers to their freedom of expression.

"The recent arrest of six Iranian filmmakers, the sentence of 'one year in jail and 90 lashes' to an actress just for playing a role in an acclaimed film, and the continued house arrest of Jafar Panahi, among others, is a situation that demands our serious attention," the board of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences said in a statement.

"These filmmakers -- and others -- are artists, not political combatants. We join our colleagues around the world in calling unequivocally for these filmmakers' safety, release, and return to filmmaking. They deserve the same, full freedom of expression that the overwhelming majority of our members enjoy every day, no matter where they are from, no matter where they work, no matter what their beliefs."

Earlier in Oct., an Iranian court sentenced actress Marzieh Vafamehr to a year in jail and 90 lashes from a whip for acting in the film My Tehran for Sale, which was made in Australia. It was about how artists in Iran are not allowed to speak their minds.

Another Iranian director who had been sentenced to six years, Mohammad Rasoulof, had his sentence reduced to one year by the same appeals court that upheld the conviction of Panahi, according to press reports.

There was a time that Iran had a great tradition of the arts but that has not been the case since the Islamic revolution that took place in the late 1970s, as was noted in a statement the Screen Actors' Guild on Wednesday: "Iran has a strong tradition of artistic expression reaching back thousands of years. That tradition is under attack in a contemporary Iran that has seemingly turned against its own artists."

The Writers Guild statement said: "We urge the government of Iran to remember that these are artists, not political enemies, that they have, as all free people do, the right to hold and express opinions. And we urge the government of Iran to remember that their work is the most powerful ambassador of understanding between the people of Iran and the people of the world."

Other groups that issued statements include American Cinema Editors, American Society of Cinematographers, Director's Guild of America, International Documentary Association and the Producers Guild of America.

The verdict against Panahi was apparently made in Tehran about two weeks ago but only made public over the past weekend. Panahi had been convicted last December and sentenced to six years in prison and banned from making movies, giving press interviews or traveling for 20 years) because of a documentary he tried to make concerning unrest in Iran after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. He was released and put under house arrest after paying $200,000 in bail.

Panahi, who is 51-years-old, had won acclaim and many international awards but most of his movies can't be shown in his home country. The Islamic regime there has made clear it does not approve of his satires of life in Iran today.

His documentary This Is Not A Film, about a day in his life as he waited to hear about his appeal, was shown at the Cannes film festival in May. His wife picked up his award as best director in the Un Certain Regard section of the festival.

Curiously, Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie reportedly said last January that the government opposed Panahi's sentence. But that appeared to have no influence on the judges hearing the case.

The outcry over the censorship and harsh sentencing has not just been from the industry. Western political figures have also spoken out. The European Union foreign policy chief said in January the sentence was "not compatible with the human rights commitments that Iran" has made.

On Monday, the German foreign minister called the sentence politically motivated and shows the shocking suppression of freedom of speech and artistic rights in Iran.

Here are the full texts of the statements issued Wednesday by entertainment organizations:

Statement from the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences:

As an international organization representing over 6000 artists in 35 countries, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is deeply concerned whenever and wherever the rights of filmmakers are threatened. The recent arrest of six Iranian filmmakers, the sentence of "one year in jail and 90 lashes" to an actress just for playing a role in an acclaimed film, and the continued house arrest of Jafar Panahi, among others, is a situation that demands our serious attention.

These filmmakers - and others - are artists, not political combatants. We join our colleagues around the world in calling unequivocally for these filmmakers' safety, release, and return to filmmaking. They deserve the same, full freedom of expression that the overwhelming majority of our members enjoy every day, no matter where they are from, no matter where they work, no matter what their beliefs.

Statement from the Board of Directors of American Cinema Editors:

The American Cinema Editors is an organization of more than 500 professional film editors in the United States and around the globe. We join with the other members of the filmmaking community in expressing our deep concern whenever and wherever the basic human rights of free expression are threatened. As storytellers, we feel that the arrest of fellow artists for expressing their beliefs, revealing truths and pursuing creative freedom, no matter how controversial, is a story that should no longer have to be told in the 21st century.

Statement from the Board of Governors of the American Society of Cinematographers:

The American Society of Cinematographers is an organization of more than 300 professional directors of photography in the United States and throughout the world. We foster the collaboration of cinematographers and the creative exchange of ideas and issues of mutual concern to our members and to the global filmmaking community. We are deeply concerned whenever and wherever the rights of filmmakers are threatened.

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