Government persecution of Iranian filmmakers is nothing new, but the stakes have ratcheted up in the last year. Jafar Panahi’s un-documentary This Is Not A Film premiered in September at Toronto. The acclaimed Panahi, is under house arrest and forbidden to make a film for 20 years.
After filmmakers rallied behind an group of arrested British documentarians, the Ministry of Culture declared the independent and influential House of Cinema guild illegal in November. Meanwhile A Separation, which would ultimately win both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award was being criticized as anti-Islamic.
Ironically, the state itself is responsible for the flowering of what many believe is the most vibrant national cinema in the world today. In the wake of the great Islamic revolution of 1979, the new theocratic republic banned American films.
Although the number of Iranian films produced plummeted immediately after the revolution and established filmmakers fled, the lack of American product caused the Iranian film industry to rebound within a few years. The rapid growth of domestic cinema gave rise to a new generation of directors, both male and female, and in the 1990’s this new generation began winning widespread international acclaim.
The truth is, few of the feted Iranian films of the last 20 years are anything near anti-government or anti-Islamic. (Panahi’s current non-film being a notable exception.) But the government seems uninterested in the truth, and as long as officials continue to prefer their own paranoid perceptions to reality, Iranian filmmakers are in jeopardy.