Received yesterday from David Sterritt, Chairman of the National Society of Film Critics:
In early March, Jafar Panahi was arrested at his home by Iranian security forces. He has since been held without charge, in stressful conditions that have evidently damaged his health.
The members of the National Society of Film Critics add their voices to those of the many other individuals and organizations who have protested this injustice. We strongly urge the Iranian government to release this great filmmaker whose works have won international awards, earned the accolades of critics all over the world, and delighted and inspired audiences everywhere they are shown.
One of the most political and populist of Iranian directors, as well as a prominent supporter of presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, Panahi was briefly detained after last spring’s protests; last month, the 49-year-old filmmaker’s home was raided and he was arrested, along with family members of and 15 dinner guests. Panahi has since been held in solitary confinement. His wife Taherah Saeedi was permitted to visit him a few days ago; her report expresses grave concern for his physical well being.
Despite, or rather because of, his international accolades — The White Balloon (1995) received the Camera d’or at Cannes, and The Circle (2000) won the Golden Bear at Venice — Panahi was regarded with suspicion at home. Most of his films, some of which deal with the oppression of Iranian women or the situation of the nation’s dispossessed, were banned in Iran; earlier this year he was denied permission to travel to the Berlin Film Festival. Panahi was also repeatedly denied a U.S. visa. (Most notoriously, he was arrested at JFK in April 2001, en route from a Hong Kong film festival to one in Buenos Aires, cuffed, leg-chained, and sent back to Hong Kong.)
At the same time, Panahi is the Iranian filmmaker who has enjoyed the greatest success in the U.S.: Both The White Balloon and its sequel The Mirror (1997) were named Best Foreign Film by the New York Film Critics Circle; The Circle, Crimson Gold (2003), and Offside (2006) were included in the New York Film Festival. All five features had U.S. distribution, including DVD. Not since the Soviets jailed the great Armenian director Sergei Paradjanov in the 1970s has a filmmaker of Panahi’s stature been imprisoned.