Hollywood Voices Support for Imprisoned Iranian Filmmaker Jafar Panahi

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AMPAS, SAG and ACE are among the groups decrying the director's six-year jail sentence, which was recently upheld by an appeals court.

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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We share these concerns with our fellow guilds and film organizations: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), The Directors Guild of America (DGA), The Producers Guild of America (PGA), The Screen Actors Guild (SAG), The Writers Guilds of America East and West (WGA), the American Cinema Editors (ACE) and the International Documentary Association (IDA).

We are deeply concerned regarding 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 and cinematographers around the world in calling unequivocally for these Iranian 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 Directors Guild of America:

The Directors Guild of America joins our colleagues and fellow artists around the world in condemning the baseless and cruel imprisonment or detainment of filmmakers by the Iranian government. We first raised this issue last year immediately after the sentencing of prominent Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi. We are extremely concerned that not only does Panahi remain under arrest, but the Iranian government continues to detain filmmakers and other artists without cause. As an organization representing 14,500 directors and members of the directorial team who live and work all over the world, it is our belief that for a society to flourish, artists must have the freedom to live and work without fear of imprisonment, retribution or censorship.

Creative freedom is an essential building block of liberty, culture, civil and human rights, and we join the world community in opposing any attempt to suppress the rights of artists to engage in creative expression. We hope the Iranian government will release these filmmakers and recognize that their creative works can only strengthen and enrich Iranian society.

Statement from the International Documentary Association:

The International Documentary Association believes that the power and artistry of film is vital to cultures and societies globally, and we fiercely defend the rights of filmmakers and artists everywhere to practice their art and to seek and reveal truth in their work, however provocative that truth may be. We strenuously uphold the principles of free speech and freedom from censorship. The expression of truth should never be silenced by the exercise of power by a State or system of authority that may feel threatened by the content of the artistic or journalistic work–both essential elements of democracy.

Together with our entire international community of documentary filmmakers, The International Documentary Association calls for the release and fair treatment of Iranian filmmakers, artists, and actors. These artists, and other filmmakers, actors and journalists like them, must be immediately released and allowed to continue their artistic and journalistic work without restriction or penalty. We stand united with them, as do artists across the globe. And we will continue to fight for their fundamental human right of self-expression.

Statement from the Producers Guild of America:

As supporters of creative freedom, the Producers Guild of America, on behalf of its more than 4,800 members, wishes to express its profound dismay over the treatment of producer Katayoun Shahabi, directors Jafar Panahi, Naser Saffarian, Hadi Afarideh, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and Shahnam Bazdar, and journalist and documentarian Mohsen Shahrnazdar at the hands of their Iranian government.

The silencing of these voices and others via arrest, coercion and political pressure is unacceptable, and we stand steadfast with our colleagues within the industry and around the world in calling for their release. We look forward to the day when these storytellers are permitted to resume their callings, and hope that even in their captivity, these artists know that they have the sympathy, respect and support of our creative community.

Statement from Screen Actors Guild:

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. Screen Actors Guild deeply deplores the persecution of actor Marzieh Vafamehr and the filmmakers and other entertainment and media industry representatives now under attack in Iran. We add our voices to the thousands of artists worldwide calling on the Iranian government to immediately free Marzieh and the other artists and filmmakers imprisoned because of their artistic and cultural endeavors. We urge Iran to refrain from stifling the artistic expression of its citizens and to let their unique and valuable voices be heard once again.

Statement from the Writers Guilds of America, West and East:

The Writers Guilds of America West and East add their voices to the calls for the release of writer/director Jafar Panahi, now under house arrest, and all other members of Iran's creative community unjustly imprisoned or detained. The art of Iran is one of the great treasures of humankind. Its cinema has a long and vibrant history--and in recent years, the Iranian cinema has been one of the very brightest lights illuminating the art form for the rest of the world. Its filmmakers represent the richness of Iranian culture and the extraordinary imagination of the Iranian people. All of us are poorer when their voices are stilled.

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. Nothing is more dangerous to a society than the silencing of art. Therefore, we ask the government of Iran to release its filmmakers and to allow them to live and to work freely, as they have previously done in their country and as most of their fellow artists do in the rest of the world.

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