Mike Fleming

In a important show of solidarity, the 2011 Cannes Film Festival has added to its program films directed by Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, the Iranian filmmakers who each drew six-year prison sentences (with a 20-year filmmaking banishment for Panahi) by a strict Tehran regime that charged them with “propaganda against the state.” Essentially, the men were vilified for publicly mourning protesters killed following the presidential election. Panahi, who won Camera d’Or honors at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival for his first film, The White Balloon, and the Golden Lion in 2000 for The Circle, was arrested again in February 2010, and sent to prison in Tehran on the dubious charge of collusion and propaganda. Filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Francis Coppola, Paul Haggis and Sean Penn, and numerous festivals and humanitarian organizations like Amnesty International, have decried the harsh sentences that have cast a chill on all Iranian filmmakers.

For its part, festival organizers reveal they just got the films that were made in “semi-clandestine” conditions.

Rasoulof’s Be Omid e Didar (Good Bye) becomes an official selection in the Un Certain Regard category, and will screen May 13. It’s the story of a young lawyer in Tehran who is in search of a visa to leave the country, something that Rasoulof did last winter.

In Film Nist (This Is Not A Film), directed by Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmas, will be shown May 20 as a Special Screening in the official Selection. That film focuses on Panahi as he awaited verdict on his court appeal. The film gives a strong overview of the current reality for Iranian cinema.

“Mohammad Rasoulof’s film and the conditions under which it was made, Jafar Panahi’s ‘diary’ of the days of his life as an artist not allowed to work, are by their very existence a resistance to the legal action which affects them. That they send them to Cannes, at the same time, the same year, when they face the same fate, is an act of courage along with an incredible artistic message. Cannes is the international institution which protects them. Film professionals from world over will gather on the Croisette and unite, we are sure, in a sort of self-evident fellowship” declared Gilles Jacob and Thierry Frémaux. “Our problems are also all of our assets, Jafar Panazhi says in his message. Understanding this promising paradox helped us not to lose hope, and to be able to go on since we believe wherever in the world that we live, we are going to face problems, big or small. But it is our duty not to be defeated and to find solutions.”