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Berlinale invites Panahi to join jury

Will Iran let director out to serve as judge?

Berlin Film Festival director Dieter Kosslick has invited Iranian helmer Jafar Panahi, jailed by Iran for three months this year for making films critical of the government, to join the fest’s competition jury next February.

“We hope Jafar Panahi will be able to attend and perform this important task,” Kosslick said on Monday.

Last February, Iranian authorities banned the helmer, whose films often depict Iran’s social problems, from leaving the country to attend the Berlinale.

He and 16 other people, including his wife and daughter, were arrested at his home on March 1 on unspecified charges. Most were soon released, but Panahi remained in custody, spurring outrage in the worldwide film industry.

The Berlin fest sent messages of support while helmers Robert Redford, Steven Spielberg, Michael Moore and Oliver Stone, among others, signed petitions for Panahi’s release.

In April, culture minister Mohammad Hosseini said that Panahi was detained for making an “anti-regime” film after last year’s re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In May the Cannes Film Festival drew further attention to Panahi’s plight, who was then on hunger strike in jail, by inviting him to sit on its jury.

The helmer was released May 25 after posting bail of $200,000, but there is a question mark about whether he will be allowed to travel to Berlin for the Feb. 10-20 fest.

His passport was not returned, and he was unable attend the Venice Film Festival in September to present his short “The Accordion” on opening day.

(Wire services contributed to this report.)

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