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Tough times for Iran film

Panel laments helmer's absence, WCF gets cash boost

There was good news and bad news delivered during a panel on the state of Iranian cinema held in Berlin on Wednesday.

Fest director Dieter Kosslick announced that the World Cinema Fund will get an extra E100,000 ($136,000) next year to add to its annual budget of around $545,000, courtesy of Chinese diamond company and Berlinale sponsor Tesiro. The Chinese company is set to auction off a specially designed diamond-encrusted bear statue and give the proceeds to the fund, set up by the Berlinale in cooperation with the German Federal Cultural Foundation.

On the flipside, Iranian filmmakers continue to find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

The Film in Iran panel was overshadowed by the absence of Iranian helmer Jafar Panahi. The director, whose “Offside” won a Silver Bear in 2006, had been invited to Berlin as Kosslick’s honorary guest but was refused permission to leave Iran by the authorities.

Kosslick paid tribute to Panahi and pledged to travel to Iran to help resolve the issue.

Panelists, including helmers Rafi Pitts and Nader Davoodi, both of whom have films in Berlin’s official selection, also made a point of acknowledging Panahi. Pitts, whose “The Hunter” world preemed in Competition, was particularly vocal about the challenges facing Iranian directors from inside and outside the country.

The government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has cut its support for more arthouse-minded Iranian auteurs, leaving many to find co-production finance from Europe. That has raised its own problems, with some potential producers seeking artistic compromises based on cultural stereotypes.

“One big European producer asked me to change one of the female characters to a prostitute,” Pitts said. “This kind of thing can be very dangerous. I’m worried that within five years, because of the economic situation in Iran making budgets go so high and no government subsidies to help, it might not be possible to make arthouse cinemas. There is a danger from both sides.”

The helmer also highlighted what he sees as the Iranian government’s attempts to hamstring the independent film biz by offering inflated salaries to those willing to work in the state-controlled TV sector.

“This is a sly and clever way to disband the film industry,” Pitts said. “I don’t see why the government doesn’t believe in cinema as a freedom of speech thing. A filmmaker might just want to make cinema, not make a political statement. Cinema needs to be defended.”

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