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Jafar Panahi interview, part two

Here are two kinds of political demonstrations.

First, the Iranian Republican Guards Corps test-firing a ballistic missile with a range sufficient to hit Israel, Moscow, parts of Europe and US military targets as a way to break the ice for an upcoming meeting in Geneva on Thursday with U.N. Security council members to discuss its nuclear program.

And second, as reported in the IFC website, Iranian filmmakers Hana and Samira Makhmalbaf, following the lead of Jafar Panahi earlier this month in Montreal, peacefully demonstrating  last Thursday at the San Sebastian Film Festival against the Ahmadenijad regime with a100 other protesters carrying green flags and calling for peace and democracy.

Neither has gone unnoticed. The latter, according to IFC, has stirred Ahmadinejad's art advisor Javad Shamaqdari to threaten "...a boycott of festivals by 'Iranian artists' if protests continued. ‘The enemy, which has been disappointed concerning their plans for a velvet coup and a soft war in Iran, tries to keep up the fever of their subversive activities at foreign art and cinematic events,' he announced. ‘The Venice film festival was a vulgar display revealing the enemy's plan.'"

Vulgar, I suppose, when compared to firing a missile and escalating tensions that could lead  to a horrendous regional if not worldwide conflict. Be that as it may, a test of Shamaqdari's boycott threat might take place when Panahi attends the Mumbai Film Festival as president of its jury. The festival starts October 29.

Meanwhile, here's the second half of my interview with Panahi at Montreal, which picks up after his mentioning of his films "The Circle" and "Offside." [Note that the interview is made through an interpreter].

PK: But both those films were banned in Iran. Can we still expect Iran to continue to be the great national cinema it has been?

JP:  The production in the cinema industry in Iran will not stop. There are more of the cheap government movies than ever. But a year ago in an interview I had predicted that there will be an underground cinema in Iran. We saw one such film at the Cannes Festival by  Bahman Ghobadi ["Nobody Knows About the Persian Cats"]  which will also be showing at San Sebastian. There are many other movies that are produced in this way. In a country like ours, if they stop filmmakers in one way the will find another way.

PK: What about your own filmmaking?

JP: I have a film I want to make about the last day of the Iran-Iraq War. The story is ready. I want to make it. I hope I can do it in Iran. If not, then somewhere else, a place that is like Iran geographically. But I prefer to do it in Iran. Because I have always preferred that Iranian filmmakers should not go outside the country. Some have been obligated to leave the country. But I think we should stay here and use the Iranian setting  to make movies. Maybe one day I'll leave the country to make a movie but I'll come back again. However now my goal is to make movies in Iran. I have a lot of stories already prepared. If they let me do so after I come back, I can start my work.

PK: Do you think your outspokenness here and, presumably next month when you serve as the president of the jury at Mumbai, will cause problems for you when you try to make your next film?

JP:There are problems always. But I never censor myself and I never let them censor my films. I will never let anyone remove one frame. I have always said I would never let anyone change one frame. That's my belief. If I censor myself in that way the movies won't be mine. When I went to the US and they wanted to fingerprint me I did not let them. If I didn't accept that then there, then I won't accept any violations of my rights anywhere.

PK: Can you describe that experience and compare it to your arrest in Iran?

JP: It's not comparable. The US has its own laws. If I'm going there as a tourist I should obey its laws. But I was invited there as an artist. It was an insult to myself and my profession. But I am willing to suffer more in my country than anywhere else because there I want to change the situation. And create something ideal. But the laws of another country are their own. I can be opposed to them. But my actions in my country are not just a protest  but a discussion to try to build something. If you can't build something then you suffer more.

PK: Did you have any difficulties attending this festival after you were arrested?

JP: No, I had no problem. I don't need their permission.

PK: There are some Iranian movies in this festival, including a short by your son. Can you comment on these?

JP: I've not watched the others as yet. I've seen my son's film and I liked it. What happened was that they were collecting the satellite dishes in  his neighborhood. My son is a student at a university in Teheran. He took his camera and he started to make a documentary about this.

 PK: Is it like those films you described before taken by people covertly with cell phones?

JP: Even in your own home you can make a movie.

PK: In the West people tend to dismiss film as just entertainment. Do you believe that film has an important political role?

JP: Yes. Since everything is under the control of the government here, if there is a movie that they don't have control over and which shows the reality of the people, the people will believe in it. Maybe in your country a filmmaker doesn't  have the problems we have in our country. Maybe in your country  the problem is commercial and financial. So the situations aren't comparable. In my country it isn't a question of money ; it's a question of  how you dress, what you eat, what you can do. Everything is controlled in Iran. When you're in Iran you're used to that so when there's just a little deviation the government reacts strongly to stop it but people will look for it to see it. They'll get it from satellite dishes and pirated DVDs. When "Offside" was banned, two days later the whole country had copies of the DVD. So the government has intensified curiosity about those films they have banned. It reminds me of some lines of dialogue from "The White Balloon." The little girl wants to go see something but her parents wouldn't let her. When the grandmother asks her why she wants to go anyway, she says "I wanted to see what the didn't want me to see."


PK: Unlike the Hollywood studios, then, you don't disapprove of having your work pirated?

JP: I want my movies to be see. That's my hope. If my films are broadcast everywhere else in the world they should also be seen in my own country.  Actually, the government thinks I'm behind the pirating. That's because in the case of  "Offside" I asked the government to let me release the film before the World Cup. They didn't let me ,but 20 days before the World Cup a pirated copy was distributed anyway. They thought this was my plan. I said, I think this is your plan to destroy me financially.

PK: Andrzej Wajda has a film ["Sweet Rush" ] in this festival. It made me wonder if there might be a "Man of Iron" kind of film made about the current crisis in Iran. What's your thought on this?

JP: It's completely unpredictable. There's a huge potential for anything. It could end up a bloody massacre. If it continues in this way there will be disaster for both sides.

PK: Can people outside Iran do anything to help the situation?

JP: Absolutely not. Everyone in Iran would be unified against any country that wants to do anything to Iran. With any such action freedom and democracy in Iran will die. There will be an even stronger dictatorship in our country if any country interferes .

PK: What film did you see that inspired you to become a filmmaker yourself?

JP: It was a long time ago. One film had a huge influence on me. It was "Bicycle Thieves"  by Vittorio De Sica. At the beginning of the film Ricci has his bicycle stolen. In the end he tries to steal a bicycle himself. It was such a big influence on me that I wanted to make "The Circle" in another way. A new story on the same theme.

PK: Good luck with the green scarves.

JP: I hope it gets some results. In Tehran I was informed that there was a wonderful reaction. A newspaper in Tehran that's quite independent put the photo on the front page. Given the circumstances, that's really something

There are currently two known bands with the name The Circle. The Circle is also one of the previous names of Dutch Goth/Symphonic Metal band...

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