I've named this piece For Jafar as a tribute to both the unjustly imprisoned
Jafar Panahi and HBO's brilliant documentary For Neda
, which took us beyond the political and social symbolism of Neda Agha Soltan's tragic needless death and straight to Neda's heart and life as told through her family, friends and the relics of Neda's left behind, such as her surprising tastes in Western fashion and huge stack of highly illicit books considered literary treasures outside Islamist Iran. There was much more to Neda Soltan, of course.
In For Jafar, I will similarly attempt to go beyond The Nightmares Before Christmas
and all that entails for a time. Rather I will share with you what few snippets I have I gleaned of Jafar Panahi's life as a living human being and not a tortured innocent film poet given an artistic death sentence, what Jafar himself called wandering in the larger jail
. A most poetic analogy as you might expect from the eloquent filmmaker, and dead on point. If you're a passionate artist denied your art in toto, is that really any better than a summary execution?
Filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof
robbed of his paints, brushes, canvass and stone
. What is left of the man? Of course, the two filmmakers will first have to survive six years in Islamist Iran's Dantean prison system
to greatly improve their life status to merely being banned from their art for life. Always a dicey proposition
in Islamist Iran. Dark questions abound. What if Jafar goes on a hunger strike again? The last one nearly killed him. His health was already failing rapidly back then from the regime's Winston Smith
treatment, which has failed to break him as it has many innocent Iranians brutalized
in the shadows of hells like Evin
But many others in the film world, the media and the blogosphere will be discussing at length the political and social ramifications of Mr. Panahi's intolerable situation, or making strong political statements in support of Mr. Panahi and demanding his immediate and unconditional release. Oscar winners Martin Scorsese and DGA
President Taylor Hackford already have
, God bless 'em this Christmas Season. The Europeans and Brazilians
are getting restless
too, never mind
But you could know all that already. Here's what you may not know. First, a most relevant Fun Film Fact I have yet to really see
mentioned anywhere of late: Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof are not only co-prisoners
; like many of their star film industry counterparts in Hollywood they're co-producers
. The film Mohammad Rasoulof directed and Jafar Panahi edited last year, White Meadows
, is an eerie and mystical allegory
with breathtaking cinematography
White Meadows was filmed on an otherworldly
salt island in Iran's Lake Urmia, adding even deeper symbolism to the mysterious man who came to the island by boat to collect people's salt-filled tears in jars as part of a bizarre societal ritual. White Meadows wowed the international film festival circuit last May during its run. Ironically, the world's top filmmakers were howling back then for Mr. Panahi's release from unjust captivity in Evin, symbolized by the empty chair at Cannes and actress Juliette Bionoche's tearful plea.
Only now fellow filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof is also caught up in the Islamist regime's merciless machinery of injustice. Adds a twist, doesn't it? Knowing all that, one of my first thoughts upon the news of this twin crime against art, humanity and civilization itself was of a Satanic version of The Producers, only this ain't no movie and it really sucks. I first received the stunning news early Monday from an Iranian friend on Facebook. From there I went straight to the main Jafar Panahi Facebook page
, which speaks for the man.
The news was of course posted all over its wall, as were calls for petitions and eloquent pleas for Jafar's pardon and release. I expected to see all that. The wall was a gathering place, chat room and bulletin board for many of his worldwide supporters during his last unjust imprisonment, then in a crypt-like cell
in Evin's notorious Ward 209
. What I didn't expect to see was a YouTube video collage
of master pantomime Marcel Marceau as the most recent official post. What a brilliant statement!
I interpreted it as, "No matter what you do to artists, their art survives." It may not have been Mr. Panahi who posted it, but I can see him supporting the idea in full: fight violence with art. Not a new concept
. Also, during my reporting
and campaigning earlier this year at the Jafar Panahi and Free Jafar Panahi
pages, I came into contact with a number of great Iranians both within and without Iran, including a relation of Mr. Panahi's who turned out to be a total metalhead. It all started with Korn's Here To Stay
and Disturbed's The Game
live, and it only went downhill from there. It was an unexpected discovery and connection.
I realize this isn't really very much of an insight into Mr. Panahi's life as a man. Many others know him far better as a filmmaker, family man and kindred spirit than I. I'm just giving you what I got. The last insight I will provide you on Mr. Panahi for now, as well as for Mr. Rasoulof, is that the two filmmakers have shown balls of steel in traveling to film festivals overseas, brandishing Green
and demanding Iran be free. They knew they would have to reckon with whatever the Little Hitler and the Mad Mullahs had in store for them.
They willingly returned to the belly of the beast knowing full well how greatly they had angered it, and all evidence to date indicates they will not be silenced but for death itself. To paraphrase George C. Scott in Patton, "Men that eloquent have to be saved." I will certainly do all I can to help free Mr. Panahi yet again
. On that front, I am very encouraged by the tsunami of international outcries calling for the filmmakers' freedom. As to what the future holds, who knows? Given Islamist Iran is involved, I tend to drift toward worst case scenarios.
But the world's eyes are on Iran and the two renowned filmmakers now, and they will not turn away. On this News Year's Eve, I hold on to the hope that the two men will be released in fairly short order as a result of intense domestic and international pressure, the one political force the regime seems to pay attention to at all. That is my wish. I also wish the best for the filmmakers' families in this trying time, as well as for all Iranians and their families suffering as a result of regime cruelty. I also hope that some day, from either within or without Iran, somehow the lights are finally turned off on this human rights horrorshow forever. It has been running for far too long.
In closing, here's to wishing for a Happy New Year filled with heartwarming stories from a newly free and democratic Iran, and of Jafar Panahi, Mohammad Rasoulof and all the other oppressed Iranian filmmakers cranking out their next celluloid gems
. We can dream, can't we? In fact, just think of how great Iran could be if the Mad Mullahs only had the power to bless American sports cars
. Now there's a Christmas Wish!