A couple of days ago, as
reported in the "New York Times,"
Mahmoud Ahmadenijad proclaimed to the UN that the Iranian "people
entrusted me once more with a large majority" in a ballot he described as
"glorious and fully democratic." Wordlessly and
far more elequently earlier this month the great Iranian filmmaker Jafar
Panahi challenged that claim when he and the other members of the jury for the Montreal Film
Festival took the stage wearing green scarves -
green being the color of those opposing, Ahmadenijad's
Panahi, who has been barred from filmmaking and whose last three movies -- "The
"Crimson Gold" (2003),
and "Offside" (2006) have
been banned in his native land, therefore must employ other means to express
himself - such as the following interview.
PK: Tell me about the green scarves.
JP: It was my own idea. I bought the scarves in Tehran and brought them here. I asked the
jury if the would wear them and fortunately they accepted.
PK: And earlier as you walked on the red carpet to the opening
ceremonyy you greeted a number of demonstrators. Was this spontaneous?
JP: It was spontaneous, though I wanted it to happen. When I saw
those people with painted faces it reminded me of the young people In Teheran.
These green scarves and green faces don't stand for any person or party
specifically but the color is a sign for the future, for hope for the future.
In a country with very little water like Iran the color green is a symbol of
hope for the future and for civilization. It's a symbol of resistance to the
government and freedom. The basic rights of the people.
I am a part of this society and
I have had all these sort of problems. For four years I haven't had the
right to make a movie. I felt that since they no longer let me make movies, and
since it had been almost a year and a half since I have gone to a festival, I felt
that now was a good time to go to one and express my feelings. And even though
filmmakers can't make movies, now we have thousands of amateur filmmakers in
the streets of Tehran
who can make movies that transfigure reality with their cell phones and put it
online. Because in Iran
all the media are controlled by the government so there isn't any other place.
We don't have privately-owned TV. All the cinemas and everything are under the
control of the government. All the newspapers and journals. There are some that
are semi-independent but if anything happens they would close them all. Most of
the journalists are in prison. In such a situation, filmmakers should be with
PK: Are you worried about returning to Iran after voicing our opinion so
JP: When I'm in Iran
I have the same attitude. A week before I came here I was arrested with my
family and some documentary people just because we went to the cemetery for
Neda [a young woman shot during an anti-Ahmadenijad demonstration who has
become a symbol of the movement]. This oppression exists everywhere in the
country. Whether you leave or come back, it's the same for everyone in the
PK: What happened when you were arrested?
JP: I was arrested at 11 o'clock. I knew I should somehow
communicate to people in the outside cinema world that I was arrested. I came
up with a clever way to do so. And when I did so the word went out to everybody
in the cinema world what had happened to me. Some of those people came to where
I was arrested and the put on pressure and somehow they were obligated to let
me go. At around half past seven they released me. But during these 8 hours
there was very good media coverage about what had happened. It shows the power
of the cinema . They know they cannot easily face the people of cinema with
impunity. The government media announced that Panahi was arrested "mistakenly."
They know how to avoid telling the truth.
PK: Was this international pressure or just from Iranian
JP: From all over the world. I heard that some very famous
filmmakers were planning to do something very serious if I was detained any
PK: Because you are a filmmaker are you immune from the kind of
repression suffered by the ordinary Iranian?
JP: The country is so
closed to the outside world that they
can do anything they want with the people. They will reach a point where it's
very difficult for them to back down and at that point this kind of government
can only think about a huge massacre. We
know that's what's going to happen but we don't know when.
PK: So you aren't very optimistic.
JP: The people who are in power don't want to lose it. They have
engaged in the worst possible behavior in the prisons in Iran. If what they have done to
these prisoners had not been communicated to the outside for sure they would
have denied the abuses and shooting but with the tiny cell phones. This has
been transmitted to the outside and other evidence has been documented.
PK: One of the recurrent symbols in your films is the circle. Do
you find it ironic that the history of Iran has been circular, with the
revolutionaries of 30 years ago now repressing a revolution themselves?
JP: Exactly. But now it's more difficult compared to 30 years
ago. Because now it's an ideological government. A dictatorial government is
better than an ideological government. Because that ideological government has
its own dictatorship and a religious ideology that connects itself to God so
they can apply their dictatorship even more tyrannically.
PK: So if there's change it will be much bloodier than the
overthrow of the Shah?
JP: It's not predictable. In the summer before the revolution
[against the Shah] if you asked someone if there might be a revolution, a very
optimistic person would say maybe in a century. Yet six months later it happened.
My optimistic opinion is that the people in Iran are practicing democracy on
the street. I was with those people on the street. There
were almost 2 million of them and I walked with them for an hour. Not one
person said anything. There was total silence. You can't find this anywhere in
But although they want to be united the government is trying to
turn the people against one another. I hope this experience of tolerating each
other will continue to be practiced and we will be able to keep our country
unified. But I'm afraid if they don't succeed at that they will destroy the
country because we have many different nations in Iran. As has been seen in the similar
experiences of the USSR, in
the former Yugoslavia, and
in Afghanistan and Iraq
huge problems can arise.
Our main goal is to be unified and tolerate each other and not just
to eliminate the people in power. That's the only way we can reach our goal. So
that green color is a symbol of that hope. It's not in support of Moussavi [Mir
Hussein Moussavi, the
opposition candidate defeated by Ahmadenijad in the disputed election] or any
other individual. We are demonstrating for that future, that everyone might be
unified under this color. Our goal is not supporting any particular person or
government. We have a higher responsibility. Any time I have a bad feeling about
what's happening, like about that closed circle that is in the movie "The
Circle" I think of another movie I made, "Offside," where there is shown a
small hope of breaking free.
Next: Banned in Iran.