Berlin's Int'l Jury Continues Protest Against Imprisonment of Iranian Director Jafar Panahi

A chair for the director was left vacant at the opening press conference, a statement of protest against the Tehran regime.


BERLIN -- There was a seat left when Isabella Rossellini and the other members of the Berlin Film Festival's international jury took the stage Thursday for the opening day press conference.

A chair for imprisoned Iranian director Jafar Panahi was left vacant, a statement of protest against the Tehran regime.

Panahi is officially a member of this year's Berlin jury, even though he is currently serving a six-year sentence for making a film without official government sanction. Iran has also banned him from making movies for the next 20 years.

"We knew, with Jafar there was a possibility he wouldn't be allowed to join us," Rossellini said. "So we used this as an opportunity to take a very strong position on freedom of speech and the freedom of the work. If we were only allowed to make propaganda films approved by the state it would kill the art. It is important that every voice be heard, every kind of film be made."

Panahi dominated the press conference in his absence, with jury members returning again and again to his case.

"Censorship and state control is a constant threat, we saw this in the U.S. during the McCarthy era, or in India during the Emergency," said Bollywood star Aamir Khan. "It is a constant struggle and something we have to keep trying to overcome every time it springs up."

The jury, which also includes Canadian director Guy Maddin, British costume designer Sandy Powell, German actress Nina Hoss and Australian producer Jan Chapman, said it hoped the films they picked to win Berlin's Gold and Silver Bears would be worthy of Panahi's legacy.

The jury will announce the winners of the 61st Berlin International Film Festival Feb. 20.