Banned Iranian Filmmaker Jafar Panahi Accepts Academy's Invitation to Join

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Jafar Panahi.

Facing a 20-year government prohibition on filmmaking, the director says he will "deeply cherish" the opportunity to watch the work of international colleagues as a way of staying vicariously involved.

Persecuted Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi has issued a statement thanking the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the invitation to join its ranks.

Panahi was among the 276 film industry figures offered membership to the Academy when the organization made its annual announcement on June 28.

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The celebrated director of The White Balloon and The Circle has been subject to a 20-year government ban on travel and filmmaking in his country since the mass demonstrations in Tehran following the controversial 2009 presidential elections.

Panahi has twice successfully flouted the regime’s ban. In 2011, he managed to smuggle This Is Not a Film -- a critical political piece shot almost entirely in his apartment (he was under house arrest at the time) -- out of Iran on a USB device hidden inside a cake. It premiered at Cannes that year.

In 2012, his Closed Curtain -- another introspective political film made under severely constrained conditions -- was successfully transported to the Berlinale, where it won the festival’s Best Screenplay prize. Iranian authorities soon denounced the film and the festival for screening it, saying in a statement, “We believe that the Berlin fest organizers should correct their behavior.”

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The authorities have not yet commented on the Academy's invitation to the director, but Michael Moore posted Panahi’s statement in response in full this week, as below:

“I would like to sincerely thank the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for inviting me to join their organization. I am especially grateful to Michael Moore and the documentary branch for nominating me.

“It’s an honor for me to join such a prestigious organization, and I am proud to accept the invitation on behalf of the large family of the Iranian filmmakers, who have steadfastly represented the best of Iranian arts and culture despite all the limitations they have been subjected to.

“I understand this membership affords me the chance to see some of the best films every year and vote on their merits. For someone in my situation who has been banned from making films, viewing the works of international colleagues is an opportunity that I would deeply cherish. If I am forbidden from making films for twenty years, I can at least share the joys of filmmaking in a vicarious manner.”