Rooting for Jafar Panahi

In 2008, I had a glancing but memorable interaction with Jafar Panahi. He was on a jury at the Rotterdam Film Festival, and he was also participating in Cinemart, the festival’s international financing conference, with a film that had the working title RETURN. I was at Cinemart with my first feature, also called RETURN. Panahi’s dry response was, “You can have the title– it’s not that great anyway!” The week was filled with small who’s-on-first comedies of errors and mistaken identities between our two films, and I had the occasional opportunity to hang out with him. He told me that, like him, I have the opposite of a poker face. He claims this helps him while he’s shooting.

I have never been to Iran, so I know it only through its cinema and its diaspora. This year, friends from Tehran say that it is clear that the movement will succeed, but also clear that it will not succeed without a huge amount of violence coming down from the state in between now and the movement’s eventual success. They say that people have a kind of collective memory or shared knowledge about how to perform resistance, about when it is time to take to the streets, and that the ways that this knowledge bubbles up is powerful and beautiful, historical and also somehow mysterious.

I’ve been reading the accounts of Panahi’s arrest, and his recent letter from prison. I’ve been thinking about his films, which he has consistently described as socially engaged but not political. It is humbling to think about how quickly a person can be pressed to the limits of politics and the body, that he’s now on hunger strike in Evin prison. And humbling to think that people involved in the movement understand this in immediate and visceral ways, even as they make the decision that it is time to perform resistance. I’ll be rooting for him for his hearing tomorrow, and for the rest of the filmmakers and for the rest of the imprisoned.

Updates: This news seems positive– it sounds like Panahi might be out on bail later today.

More updates: Some thoughtful accounts here and here.

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