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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

This Is Not a Film May Not Be a Film, But It Shows How Iran Kicks the Hell Out of Its Artists

Posted on Wed, Apr 4, 2012 at 10:00 AM

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi
  • Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi

Regardless of whether you believe Iran is trying to create nuclear weapons, and regardless of how you feel about going to war with another Middle Eastern country, it's impossible to deny that the nation's human-rights and free-expression record sucks. About a decade ago Marjane Satrapi told the story of the Islamic revolution in Iran in the late 1970s in the graphic novel Persepolis. In it she depicts how people in Iran's large creative, academic, and leftist political circles (including her parents) were excited by the promise of a more free and egalitarian society. Then came the hard-line fundamentalists, and folks like her parents were rounded up, beaten up, put in jail, or put to death for speaking their minds.

Filmmaker Jafar Panahi wasn't put to death, but he was punished by the Iranian government several years ago for doing what he loves -- making films. Unfortunately, those films contradict what's officially acceptable in Iran. So he was banned from doing it for a long, long time. He made an attempt to get around the law while still doing what he loves. The result is This Is Not a Film.

Click through to see the trailer and read a short review by Village Voice Media film critic Karina Longworth.

In 2010, internationally celebrated Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was arrested at his home and sentenced to six years in prison for "[participating] in a gathering and carrying out propaganda against the system." The sentence included a 20-year ban on directing and writing films, giving press interviews, and leaving Iran. Billed as "an effort by Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb," This Is Not a Film was shot entirely on the grounds of Panahi's Tehran apartment in March 2011 while Panahi was under house arrest.

It's a dispatch from Panahi's life behind closed doors. In its most thrilling sequence, we see Panahi brainstorm ways to express himself using his filmmaking talents without violating the ban against filmmaking. But after excitedly reading aloud and blocking out a screenplay's first scene, Panahi's enthusiasm wanes. "If we could tell a film, why make a film?" he frets. If "Why make a film?" is a question that haunts this movie, "What is film?" is the inevitable follow-up.

The title is a literal description of method -- shot on a video camera and iPhone, this "effort" could exist only in a digital age. This is pointedly not cinema, but it's breathtakingly cinematic. It's a political statement, an act of defiance, a master class in one auteur's body of work and process, and a document of a life unseen. But above all, it's a gripping entertainment, swinging wildly from manic highs to somber lows, every moment of levity shadowed by anxiety.

This Is Not a Film screens April 6-12 at San Francisco Film Society | New People Cinema, 1746 Post (at Webster), S.F. Admission is $8-$11.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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