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Panahi keeps hope alive

Filmmaker banned from travel but his short plays on the Lido

Dissident Iranian director Jafar Panahi, who has been denied permission by authorities to travel to the Venice Film Festival, has not lost all faith in his future as a filmmaker in his country, he told Variety in a telephone interview from Tehran.

“I have learned something, and that is that I never lose hope. I hope that things will change even tomorrow, or in the next year so that I can start working again,” he said.

Authorities revoked Panahi’s passport nine months ago. He was jailed for three months after being arrested in March while shooting a film about the aftermath of Iran’s disputed June 2009 elections in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner.

Panahi said that in past weeks he mobilized all possible channels to try to get Iran to allow him to attend Venice where his short, “The Accordion,” which was shot before his arrest, screened in the Venice Days section Wednesday.

“I sent some messages through friends to the ministry, saying ‘I have to go this festival. It’s very important for me to go to this festival and come back,’ but the authorities did not listen to me,” Panahi said. “Even my lawyer called up but was not able to reach any conclusive results.”

He is currently facing trial on charges that still remain unclear.

“My trial was supposed to start almost a month ago, but it was postponed until later this month,” Panahi said. “I’m not doing anything, I’m just waiting for the trial where they will tell me what’s going to happen (to me).”

In a statement released by the Venice Days section on Wednesday, Panahi said he has been officially banned from making films, a condition he described as being “mentally imprisoned.”

But he told Variety that nothing in Iran is written in stone. “In this country, at any time things can happen, and we can witness changes, or nothing at all,” he said.

Before his arrest Panahi was working with director Mohammad Rasoulof on an as yet unnamed feature about a family and the post-election developments, revolving around a boy’s arrest.

“I had shot 30% of that film when the crew was arrested during a production meeting and all my rushes were seized,” Panahi said.

Panahi, who won a Venice Golden Lion with “The Circle” in 2000, has already been prevented from attending the Berlin, Cannes and Taormina fests earlier this year. However, he did not have films showing at these events.

“The Accordion,” a nine-minute short produced by the Geneva and Milan-based ART for the World foundation, is the story of two young street musicians in Tehran whose accordion is taken away from them.

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