Jafar Panahi unable to pick up Taormina nod

Controversial Iranian director dealing with legal troubles

TAORMINA, Sicily -- The Taormina Film Festival on Tuesday presented the Taormina Arte Award to controversial Iranian director Jafar Panahi, who was unable to receive the award in person because of legal troubles at home. Iranian actress Fatemeh Motamed-Aryia accepted the prize in Panahi's stead.
 
Panahi, whose 2006 Berlin Golden Bear-winning drama "Offside" screened out of competition in Taormina this year, was arrested in Iran for supporting the political opposition. Though he was released in May, authorities have not yet returned Panahi's travel documents passport, making it impossible for him to accept the festival's highest prize personally.
 
In a six-minute recorded address that screened in Taormina's historic Teatro Antico, Panahi said that when he was released from prison, he was stunned to realize the extent of his support among his colleagues in the cinema industry.
 
"I have to give a special thanks to Deborah Young," Panahi said, referring to Taormina's artistic director. "I know she supported me when I was in jail. I know the world of cinema supported me, and this meant a lot to me."
 
Motamed-Aryia, who was loudly applauded on Panahi's behalf, read a poem about freedom in both Farsi and Italian. She said she was moved to accept the honor for Panahi, who was selected as a member of the main Cannes jury this year but could not attend due to his arrest.
 
With the in-absentia presentation of the award to Panahi, the 49-year-old director joined Italian director Marco Bellocchio and actor Robert De Niro as the Taormina Arte prize recipients at the festival's midway point.
 
After the presentation, Neil LaBute's comic remake of Frank Oz's 2007 comedy "Death at a Funeral" screened in the 2,300-year-old Teatro Antico, which was mostly full despite threatening skies. The newer version of the film stars Danny Glover, Tracy Morgan, Luke Wilson and Chris Rock in a story about a chaotic funeral that humorously reveals a family's darkest secrets.

The festival concludes Friday.
 
Young, Taormina's artistic director, is also the chief international critic for the Hollywood Reporter.
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