×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

In Iran, justice is fluid

Recent cases illustrate country's complex legal system

Panahi case in Iran focuses biz

Coming on the heels of 2009’s post-electoral Green Revolution, the arrest of Iranian filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof provoked worldwide expressions of indignation. The sentences Iran’s revolutionary court reportedly doled out to the filmmakers last December — six years imprisonment and a 20-year ban from making films — further stoked outrage.

The Iranian state is comprised of a complex system of mechanisms, and the legal position of Pahani and Rasoulof is more complex than reports would suggest — and are still developing.

Based on conversations with several Iranian film professionals — all of whom know Rasoulof and Panahi, and have worked with them in one capacity or another (all prefer to remain anonymous) — it seems that neither Panahi nor Rasoulof is actually in prison or under house arrest.

The violation for which both filmmakers were convicted (filming without permission) allows them to pay fines in lieu of prison time. Both also have the right to appeal, which both filmmakers are exercising. Until that process is complete, it’s hard to say exactly how large the fines will be.

Both Panahi and Rasoulof are presently free to come and go from their homes as they please (foreign travel excluded). Both filmmakers have applied for state permission to shoot new feature films; Rasoulof’s application was approved and he is now in pre-production. A 20-year filmmaking ban is in place for Panahi, and the Iranian filmmakers’ guild, the House of Cinema, has lodged a formal protest asking the courts to reconsider it ruling.

“The situation is complex and paradoxical,” observes one Iranian colleague of Rasoulof. “It goes back to that fact that there are many different organs and institutions ruling the country, which reach different, often contradictory, decisions. On one hand, the government institutions say they disagree with the judiciary’s ruling … That’s why (Rasoulof has) been given permission to make new movies.”

Another Iranian film professional close to both Panahi and Rasoulof attributes the different sentences to the fact that the filmmakers followed different strategies while in detention and while being questioned by state security.

“When Panahi and Rasoulof were arrested and their rushes confiscated, Rasoulof told the police, ‘This is my film. It’s my script and Panahi is not involved,’ ” the source says. “He cooperated, answering their questions.

“Panahi refused to admit he’d done anything wrong. He believes that making films is his right and so he never cooperated, signed anything or answered any questions. ”

The lack of cooperation led to the government putting more pressure on the filmmaker, who then went on a hunger strike. The international film community — which happened to all be at the Cannes Film Festival at the time — rallied to his cause.

“Cannes released a statement requesting his release, so they were obliged to release him,” says the source, who adds that although “Panahi can go grocery shopping,” he can’t work, he can’t leave the country, he has no passport, he can’t do interviews. “Twenty years is a lifetime for a filmmaker. It’s like prison.

“The Iranian cinema guild wrote a letter to the Minister of Justice saying that to tell a filmmaker he can’t do his job is like killing him. We’re awaiting the results. Panahi has asked all his friends not to contact him or to talk about him to any festivals … because he doesn’t want to create any problems for anyone else.”

The five Iranian film professionals who felt able to contribute to this story all agreed that state policies aim to force dissident artists like Panahi and Rasoulof into exile.

“That’s the exact message of this ruling,” one source says. “Before the Green movement, because all Panahi’s films were banned in Iran … the secret police asked him, ‘Why don’t you leave? You can leave and work. We don’t let you work here.’ He doesn’t want to leave. As an Iranian, he believes he has the right to live and work in Iran.”

“They’re really frightened of independent cinema in Iran,” one young filmmaker says. “It’s not just something from the last year. They’ve been seeking a means to limit their freedom for years now.

“With this sentence, they have sent a message to the entire Iranian film community: Cinema is to be understood to be (something that is) dangerous to the government and to the regime … (that) it’s an institution being financed by foreigners and that aims to make regime-change.”

More Film

  • 'Shazam!' Review: Zachary Levi is Pure

    Film Review: 'Shazam!'

    In “Shazam!,” Zachary Levi brings off something so winning it’s irresistible. He plays a square-jawed, rippling-muscled man of might, with a cheesy Day-Glo lighting bolt affixed to his chest, who projects an insanely wholesome and old-fashioned idea of what a superhero can be. But he’s also playing a breathless teenage kid on the inside, and [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Showrunners, Screenwriters Back WGA in Agency Battle, Sides to Meet Again Tuesday

    More than 750 showrunners and screenwriters have backed the WGA’s battle against talent agencies taking packaging fees and other changes to the rules governing the business relationship between agents and writers. The letter of support issued Saturday is significant because of the immense clout showrunners and prominent screenwriters possess in Hollywood. Several showrunners had recently [...]

  • Doppelgänger Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and Adelaide

    Box Office: 'Us' on Track for Second-Highest Debut of 2019 With $67 Million

    Jordan Peele’s “Us” is on its way to scaring up one of the biggest debuts of 2019, with an estimated $67 million from 3,741 North American locations. Should estimates hold, “Us” will be able to claim several milestones: the highest debut for an original horror movie (the biggest launch for any horror pic goes to [...]

  • NF_D_JGN-D6-2160.cr2

    Film Review: 'The Dirt'

    A long time ago, the words sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll carried a hint of danger. The lifestyle did, too, but I’m talking about the phrase. It used to sound cool (back around the time the word “cool” sounded cool). But sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll has long since passed into the realm [...]

  • James Newton Howard Danny Elfman

    New Trend in Concert Halls: Original Music by Movie Composers — No Film Required

    Movie and TV composers are in greater demand than ever for, surprisingly, new music for the concert hall. For decades, concert commissions for film composers were few and far between. The increasing popularity of John Williams’ film music, and his visibility as conductor of the Boston Pops in the 1980s and ’90s, led to his [...]

  • Idris Elba Netflix 'Turn Up Charlie'

    Idris Elba in Talks to Join Andy Serkis in 'Mouse Guard'

    Idris Elba is in negotiations to join Andy Serkis and Thomas Brodie-Sangster in Fox’s fantasy-action movie “Mouse Guard” with “Maze Runner’s” Wes Ball directing. Fox is planning a live-action movie through performance capture technology employed in the “Planet of the Apes” films, in which Serkis starred as the ape leader Caesar. David Peterson created, wrote, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content