Isabella Rossellini Reads Prison Letter From Jafar Panahi at Berlin Fest's Opening Night Gala (Berlin)

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BERLIN – Isabella Rossellini turned the Berlin Film Festival's opening night gala into a public condemnation of the Iranian regime when she read aloud from a letter by director Jafar Panahi, written from his prison cell in Tehran.

Panahi, who was to be a member of the Berlin Festival jury this year, was sentenced to six years in prison and banned for making films for 20 years for the crime of making a movie in Iran without official government sanction.
"The world of the filmmaker is marked by the interplay between reality and dreams," read Rossellini, the president of the jury in Berlin this year. "The reality is they have deprived me of thinking and writing for twenty years, but they can not keep me from dreaming that in twenty years inquisition and intimidation will be replaced by freedom and free thinking...They have condemned me to twenty years of silence. Yet in my dreams, I scream for a time when we can tolerate each other, respect each other's opinions, and live for each other."

The full text of Panahi's letter – in English and Farsi - can be read here.

"We realize reading this here could make things worse for Jafar but we spoke with him and he definitely wanted us to do this," said Berlin Festival director Dieter Kosslick. "These might be the last words we hear from him (for a long time)."

The Berlin crowd – including the stars of Berlin's opening night film True GritJeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolinand filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen -- gave a standing ovation in Panahi's honor. On stage was an empty white chair bearing the director's name.

German Culture Minister Bernd Neumann, who officially opened the festival, joined in the condemnation of the Iranian regime.

"An attack on a filmmaker's freedom is an attack on the very basis of freedom itself," Neumann said.

The Berlin Festival is turning this year's event into a two-week protest against the jailing of Panahi and his director colleague Mohammad Rasoulof, who received the same prison sentence. The festival will screen a series of Panahi's films, starting Friday with Offside, which won the Silver Bear in Berlin in 2006.