This is a day late...but no matter, because this isn't likely to become any less relevant in the coming days...or years, actually.
I refer, of course, to the recent sentence handed down by Iran's repressive government sending Iranian filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof to prison for six years and banning Panahi—an internationally renowned world-cinema giant—from making any more films for 20 years. This ruthless silencing of artistic voices would be terrible for any nation, but it is especially enraging in Iran, for which this kind of thing is a deeply unfortunate way of life.
Admittedly, my exposure to Panahi's work is, as of now, limited to his last—and maybe final?—film Offside (2006), a trenchant and subversive humanist comedy-drama set detailing the attempts of a handful of women—who are banned from entering sports stadiums altogether—to watch a major soccer match live. It's a fantastic film, available here in the United States on DVD but banned—as are all of his films—in his home country. And I've seen nothing by Rasoulof, though I hear from many of my New York cinephile friends that his most recent film The White Meadows (2009) was one of the highlights of this year's Tribeca Film Festival. Putting all that aside, however, this kind of governmental clampdown on free artistic expression is absolutely unacceptable and needs to be fought whenever it pops up, as it has here in upsetting fashion.
David Ehrlich, a writer for Cinematical, sums up the outrage eloquently, so I'll let him have the last word here (and, of course, read his full post here):
The Guardian spoke with Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian studies at Columbia University, who opined that, "This is a catastrophe for Iran's cinema. Panahi is now exactly in the most creative phase of his life and by silencing him at this sensitive time, they are killing his art and talent." Dabashi later detailed the national ramifications of Panahi's sentence, offering that, "Iran is sending a clear message by this sentence that they don't have any tolerance and can't bear arts, philosophy or anything like that. This is a sentence against the whole culture of Iran. They want the artists to sit at their houses and stop creating art. This is a catastrophe for a whole nation."
Editorializing, ahoy! To echo Dabashi's sentiments, this is obviously both a tragic day for cinema as well as a tragic day for human progress. It appears as if the autocratic forces of regressive censorship haven't just robbed the world of one of its most vital artists, but also a country of one of its most essential voices. As film lovers and free-thinking people alike, we have no choice but to shine a light on this atrocity and shame those at fault into reversing their decision. This all feels like a ghastly clerical error, a mistake so flippantly unjust that it seems inevitable that the forces of reason will descend upon Panahi's cell and absolve him of this insanity. If only.
We're not here to stir our readers into political action, but art must be allowed to flourish, and Jafar Panahi's cinema is important in a way that cinema should no longer have to be. We urge you to consider both his films and his plight.