Ten months after his arrest last March, Jafar Panahi — the most internationally acclaimed of Iranian directors as well as one of the most political in both his movies and his outspoken support for opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi — has been sentenced to 6 years in prison. In addition, Panahi, 50, has been banned from making movies, talking to local or foreign journalists, and traveling abroad for 20 years. A second filmmaker, Mohammad Rasoulof, maker of the vivid allegory Iron Island (2005), was similarly sentenced. Their crime, according to his lawyer Farideh Gheyrat, was making “propaganda against the system.”
Most of his Panahi’s films, some of which deal with the oppression of Iranian women or the situation of the nation’s dispossessed, were banned in Iran, and he had been prevented from traveling abroad for some months before his arrest and incarceration, along with members of his family, in Iran’s notorious Evan prison. (Panahi was also repeatedly denied a U.S. visa and actually arrested at JFK airport in April 2001, while in transit from a Hong Kong film festival to one in Buenos Aires; customs officials had him cuffed, leg-chained, and sent back to Hong Kong.)
The Iranian filmmaker who has enjoyed the greatest success in the U.S., Panahi had two movies — The White Balloon (1995) and its sequel The Mirror — named Best Foreign Film by the New York Film Critics Circle; his Venice prize-winner The Circle (2000), Crimson Gold (2003), and Offside (2006) were included in the New York Film Festival. Although many filmmakers have labored under political restraints, Panahi’s punishment is almost unprecedented in its severity. Not since the Soviets jailed Armenian director Sergei Paradjanov in the 1970s has a filmmaker of his stature been imprisoned — and Paradjanov was far less celebrated abroad.