Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Reel Success Story from Iran; Sheila Johnston Reports on a Film Director Who Has Been Both Acclaimed and Harassed

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Reel Success Story from Iran; Sheila Johnston Reports on a Film Director Who Has Been Both Acclaimed and Harassed

Article excerpt

Byline: SHEILA JOHNSTON

WHEN the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in Iran in 1979, some 400 cinemas were burned down as part of the theocracy's rejection of American culture. But the national passion for movies survived the blow and today Iranian films are winning prizes at all the major festivals.

These aren't just esoteric art movies. Many are released internationally to commercial success, such as Majid Majidi's The Colour of Paradise, which took $2 million in North America last year. Bahman Ghobadi's A Time for Drunken Horses opened in Britain last month to admiring reviews; Alexander Walker described it as an "extraordinary film, affecting to the point of tears by its bravery and hopelessness".

Jafar Panahi's The White Balloon was the breakthrough film in 1995. His stunning The Circle won the top award, the Golden Lion, in Venice last year and many other prizes since.

Yet, despite this international acclaim, Panahi has frequently been harassed on his travels as a suspected terrorist.

In transit last April at JFK airport in New York, he was held in chains by immigration authorities and kept incommunicado for nearly a day before being expelled from the USA. It came as no surprise when he cancelled his scheduled visit to London last week, though he was an honoured guest at the Venice Film Festival last month, this time on the jury.

The Circle follows the overlapping paths of seven women during a single day in noisy, crowded Tehran.

Without a man in tow to control and "protect" them, they have no rights; they can't even buy a bus ticket out of town.

"I don't want people to see my film as a political statement, because it is about humanity," Panahi states. "I never show any maltreatment or anger from men. I believe that everyone is a good person and that even the most dangerous criminal is at bottom still a human being."

He reminds that The Circle: a stunning tale of seven disenfranchised women intolerance and inequality are by no means confined to Iran. "Everyone on this earth lives in a circle, be it due to economic, political, cultural or family problems. …

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