This is Not a Film

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Legendary Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi is certainly dedicated to his work. The director of The White Balloon, The Mirror, The Circle and Offside has been arrested, jailed and banned by Iranian authorities from making films for twenty years.

A supporter of the 2009 anti-Government protests, Panahi was charged in last year with the crime ‘assembly and colluding with the intention to commit crimes against the country’s national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic.

In a defiant move, the director teamed up with documentarian Mojbata Mirtahmasb in March of this year to make a project (not a film!) that documents his time under house arrest. With iPhones and digital cameras, the pair created This is not a Film — an ‘effort’ which was later smuggled to Cannes Film Festival on a USB stick hidden in a cake.

In This is not a Film, Panahi’s family home becomes the movie set and the most mundane of daily tasks become the script. We experience a day in the life of a banned filmmaker as he prepares breakfast, smokes on the balcony, feeds the pet iguana and watches the evening news in his lavish Tehran apartment. Throughout the day Panahi reflects on his own fate, the current state of Iranian cinema and describes his latest ideas for a film. He even transforms his lounge room into an imagined film studio – with duct tape and rearranged furniture – and  demonstrates how he’d direct each scene if he was not banned from making films.

The documentary was made under trying circumstances, to say the least. As Mirtahmasb puts it, it’s a film about not making a film. There’s no script, no actors and no soundtrack. Yet it is through the bare, intimate snapshot of Panahi’s daily life that we gain a deeper understanding of the detrimental effect censorship has had on Iranian society. For 75 minutes we share Panahi’s claustrophobia.

Panahi’s act of sedition captures the broader shift in Iranian society and the increasing disillusionment with — and desire to stand up to — the current regime. The documentary was made in March during Nowruz — the Persian New Year. The deafening silence in Panahi’s apartment is sporadically interrupted by the sounds of gunfire and explosions on the street. It is Fireworks Wednesday — a day where residents of Tehran set off homemade firecrackers despite President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declaring them illegal. Both inside and outside the apartment, it seems everyone in Tehran has become a law-breaker for a day.

This is Not a Film is a compelling exposé of the restrictive conditions artists in Iran can be subjected to, while showing a society that is slowly changing amidst election turmoil. The powerful closing shot of a Tehran street ablaze in the darkness reflects the glimmer of hope Jafar Panahi has for himself, his filmmaker friends and the future of Iran. It is a hope that audiences may too will carry as they leave the cinema.

This is not a Film screens at Cinema Nova, Carlton from Thursday 10 November.
For session times visit www.cinemanova.com.au

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