Berlin Film Fest Invites Iranian Director Jafar Panahi to Join International Jury for 2011

Panahi is on trial in Iran, accused of inciting opposition protests.


COLOGNE, Germany -- The Berlin International Film Festival has invited Iranian director Jafar Panahi to be a jury member for the 2011 festival. Panahi is on trial in Iran, accused of inciting opposition protests of making a film without official government sanction.

Panahi drew the ire of Iranian authorities by backing an opposition candidate in last year's presidential elections. When hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a second term as president, millions took to the streets in massive protest marches, which were violently broken up by the police.

The Iranian government arrested Panahi in March and he spent three months in prison, during which he went on a hunger strike. The film industry -- including director such as Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Redford and Martin Scorsese-- has rallied to his support and called on Tehran to release him.

They did so, on bail of $200,000 a week, in May but Iranian officials prevented Panahi from leaving the country in September to attend the world premiere of his short film The Accordion at the Venice Film Festival.

"We hope Jafar Panahi will be able to attend the Festival and perform this important task on the International Jury of the 61st Berlinale," said Berlin Festival director Dieter Kosslick.

Panahi's Offside, a story of female fans who break Iran's Islamic laws by sneaking into soccer stadiums, won Berlin's Silver Bear in 2006.