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Iran: Director’s Passport Confiscated Despite Hints Of Tolerance In New Regime

What a difference a little bit of time and a new regime make… or do they? Earlier this year, Iran was mulling litigation over how it was portrayed in Ben Affleck’s Academy Award winner Argo, and it boycotted the 2012 Oscars in protest over the Innocence Of Muslims video that was made in the U.S. Now that a new government led by perceived political moderate Hassan Rouhani is in place, the Argo lawsuit has lost steam and Iran has entered Asghar Farhadi’s The Past as its Oscar candidate for 2013. Those and other recent moves had led some to wonder if a new era of tolerance for freedom of expression was afoot. But, in just the past day, it’s emerged that Manuscripts Don’t Burn director Mohammad Rasoulof had his passport confiscated on a recent return home to Iran, and is still blocked from leaving the country.

Does that mean that despite the possible thaw of relations between Iran and the rest of the free world, tolerance for freedom of expression at home hasn’t really budged? Folks I’ve spoken with agree that Iran’s reopening of the House of Cinema film guild in September, after a 20-month closure, gave rise to hope that banned filmmakers like Jafar Panahi might see their sentences eased. At the time, Deputy Culture Minister Hojatollah Ayoubi said, “When a cultural issue — like the one about the House of Cinema — becomes a political one, that is (because) the situation was not managed properly.” That makes this latest turn with Rasoulof even more “paradoxical” as one person put it to me today.

The submission of Farhadi’s The Past to the Oscar race even seemed to push against typical conservative mores. The choice wasn’t entirely unexpected — Farhadi’s A Separation won the Foreign Language prize in 2011 — but the movie was made in France with French coin and deals with moral issues and intimate relationships that might have once run afoul of state authorities. Instead, it reportedly rubbed some conservatives the wrong way, but only because they felt it wasn’t Iranian enough. Read More »

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Sony Reports Tech Equipment Sales To Iran That May Violate Sanctions

By | Friday June 28, 2013 @ 5:21am PDT

Under Section 219 of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, companies are required to disclose any transactions with people or entities sanctioned under programs relating to terrorism or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. That’s why Sony Corp. reported in an SEC filing on Thursday that $12.8M of goods it sold to dealers in Dubai were resold in Iran, including to groups that are under U.S. sanctions. Tech equipment including security cameras, medical instruments and broadcasting gear was resold, or planned to be resold, to Iran’s state broadcasting unit and to the information technology department of the Iranian Police, among others, Sony said in the filing. The company noted that it “maintains policies and procedures designed to ensure that its transactions with Iran and elsewhere have been conducted in accordance with applicable economic sanctions, laws and regulations and do not involve transactions likely to result in the imposition of sanctions or other penalties on Sony.” However, if any government engaged in the sanctions were to disagree, the impact of penalties or sanctions “could be material,” Sony said. Third-party transactions may be made in the future, but Sony said it intends to conduct any such sales in accordance with applicable law.

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Lawyer For Iran Mulling ‘Argo’ Suits In France, Switzerland, U.S.; Says Obama Oscar Appearance Seen As Government Strategy

By | Monday March 18, 2013 @ 9:36am PDT

Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, the lawyer investigating possible litigation over Argo’s portrayal of Iran, tells me she is weighing options on how to proceed and is considering bringing suit in France, Switzerland or the U.S. The French attorney traveled to Tehran last week at the “urgent” request of the culture minister and speaking by phone today, she called Argo “the cherry on top” of a string of movies that Iranian officials consider an affront to their nation and people. Authorities, she said, are concerned historical facts and the way in which Iranians are depicted are distortions and want “to be able to give their point of view so that they are not seen as mad men.”

Argo is based on the story of how the CIA and Hollywood orchestrated the escape of six Americans from Iran in 1979, but when I asked if it was understood by officials that the Ben Affleck-directed film is a fictionalized account, Coutant-Peyre countered, “It claims to be a sort of documentary… In the beginning of the film it says it is taken from declassified documents.” She called it a “report” on an event “which is distorted in the film.” She further said it was part of what is considered a “strategy of strong pressure from the American government” which was made clear “via Mrs. Obama” when she announced Argo‘s Best Picture Oscar win on February 24. When I suggested that the names of Academy Award winners are kept secret until the envelopes are opened on Oscar night, Coutant-Peyre responded, “You think they didn’t know? That’s not true. The president knew.” Read More »

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Hot Trailer: ‘This Is Not A Film’

By | Saturday February 4, 2012 @ 5:40pm PST

Shot partially on an iPhone and with a digital camera and smuggled into France in a cake for last-minute submission to Cannes last year, this documentary observes the daily existence of Iranian director Jafar Panahi — under house arrest in Tehran while he appealed a six-year prison sentence and a 20-year ban from filmmaking. His crime? Supporting the opposition in Iran’s 2009 elections. Directed by Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb. The Palisades/Tartan release opens February 29th in New York and March 2 in Los Angeles.

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Hot Trailer: Iran Oscar Entry ‘A Separation’

By | Tuesday December 6, 2011 @ 8:27pm PST

Iran’s official entry to the Oscars for Foreign-Language Film this week took honors as best foreign independent film at the Moet British Independent Film Awards. Set in contemporary Iran, A Separation deals with the dissolution of a marriage. Simin wants to leave Iran with her husband Nader and daughter Termeh, but Nader refuses to leave his father, who has Alzheimer’s. According to the New York Times, it starts as a family drama, turns into something else altogether and somewhat mysteriously has emerged as a real contender in the category. Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi and distributed in the U.S. by Sony Pictures Classics, it opens December 30 in limited release.

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Hollywood Rallies Against Iran’s Draconian Verdicts Against Filmmakers And Stars

Mike Fleming

Iranian Filmmaker Jafar Panahi Faces Six-Year Stretch
Iranian Actress Faces Flogging Over Film

In September 2011, the Iranian government arrested six independent filmmakers for allegedly working with the BBC, on charges including espionage and treason. Along with the ongoing house arrest of director Jafar Panahi and the prior arrest of actress Marzieh Vafamehr, who was later sentenced to one year in prison and 90 lashes, the arrests sparked outrage from filmmaking communities within Iran and around the world. Prior to the release of two of the filmmakers, all six were denied access to their lawyers and families, who were forced to remain silent.

The following entertainment industry organizations stand united in their support for the rights of these artists and call for their immediate release.

Statement from the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

As an international organization representing over 6000 artists in 35 countries, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is deeply concerned whenever and wherever the rights of filmmakers are threatened. The recent arrest of six Iranian filmmakers, the sentence of “one year in jail and 90 lashes” to an actress just for playing a role in an acclaimed film, and the continued house arrest of Jafar Panahi, among others, is a situation that demands our serious attention. These filmmakers – and others – are artists, not political combatants. We join our colleagues around the world in calling unequivocally

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Iranian Filmmaker Jafar Panahi Faces Six-Year Stretch After Sentence Upheld

By | Monday October 17, 2011 @ 10:34am PDT
Mike Fleming

Somehow this slipped past us this weekend, but Iran has taken another step toward silencing one of the country’s most important filmmakers after an appeals court upheld a six-year jail sentence on Jafar Panahi, according to various reports that included the government-run newspaper Iran. According to that newspaper: “The charges he was sentenced for are acting against national security and propaganda against the regime.” His colleague Mohammad Rasoulof also faced a six-year sentence, and that was knocked down to one year. Panahi’s sentence includes a 20-year ban on making films, and traveling abroad. The convictions against Panahi and Rasoulof prompted an outcry among filmmakers, Amnesty International and international film festivals this year. Panahi’s lawyers reportedly will appeal again, but things are looking dire for an award-winning filmmaker who publicly mourned the deaths of protesters in the presidential elections, and reports say he and Rasoulof reportedly made a film about the aftermath. This is the same government that barbarically sentenced actress Marzieh Vafamehr to 90 lashes and a year in prison for appearing in My Tehran For Sale, and which called out the Cannes Film Festival for “fascist behavior” when it banned director Lars von Trier for his dopey comments about Nazis made at a press conference for Melancholia. Panahi won the Camera d’Or at Cannes for the 1995 film The White Balloon, and the festival pointedly added films by Panahi and Rasoulof to its program in May.

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OSCARS: Controversy Emerges As Deadline For Foreign-Language Film Entries Looms

Pete Hammond

With the deadline for submitting films in the Foreign Language Oscar race looming, the competition is taking shape. Some 44 films have been entered by Deadline’s count. Last year, 65 films were entered, so expect 20 or so more to be announced. After the October 3rd cutoff, the Academy’s Foreign Language Executive Committee, led by Oscar-winning producer Mark Johnson (Rain Man) will vet the list and approve the final rundown before the 3-month screening process begins to pick 9 finalists and the eventual 5 nominees. Already, Johnson has indicated to me there is controversy. Albania has entered The Forgiveness of Blood, the hit at Telluride and Toronto directed by LA-born and -bred Joshua Marston. Apparently, other Albanian filmmakers are balking at the nationality of the movie’s helmer. It will be up to the committee to determine whether the film has enough Albanian elements to qualify despite being in the unique situation of having an American director (and co-writer). The very internationally inclined Marston had the official 2004 Colombian entry, Maria Full of Grace, before it was disqualified for not being Colombian enough. It did eventually win a Best Actress nod for Catalina Sandino Moreno.

The Russians are also squabbling over their official entry, Nikita Mikhalkov’s Burnt By the Sun 2: Citadel, the sequel to his 1995 Oscar-winning foreign language film. Even though the full Russian Oscar selection committee voted for it, Mikhalkov has been “burnt” by committee head Vladimir Menshov, who is against putting the critical and box office flop forward to the American Academy. (Despite a $45 million budget, it grossed only $1.5 million). He is awaiting Mikhalkov’s formal response to his request that he pull the film. He has until October 1, according to the Russian rule book.

China’s choice of three-time nominee  Zhang Yimou’s (Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern, Hero) period epic The Flowers of War (formerly known during production as Heroes of Nanking), starring Oscar winner Christian Bale, is China’s most expensive film ever. It’s reportedly 40% English-language and 60% Mandarin, which lets it squeak by under Academy rules. Twenty minutes of footage from the film, which opens its regular run December 16 in China, was shown to buyers and press in Toronto and was well-received. Executive producer and former Universal Pictures honcho David Linde told me in Toronto that if the film gets a domestic distribution deal in time, it is entirely possible to open in the U.S. to qualify for all categories – presumably including a Best Actor bid for Bale. (Linde was non-committal on that, so we will have to wait and see.) If it gets nominated and the film is held from American release until next year, that would make it ineligible for other categories in 2012.

Among the countries still waiting to be heard from are frequent nominees Italy, Spain and Turkey. I fully expect those countries to select films that were all in the official competition in Cannes this year: Italy’s Habemus Papam from Nanni Moretti; Turkey’s Cannes Grand Prize winner Once Upon a Time in Anatolia from director Nuri Bilge Ceylan; and Spain’s The Skin I Live In, the first “horror” effort from two-time Oscar winner Pedro Almodovar. The latter has had a spotty track record with the Spanish Academy that makes the selections, but the rift is said to have eased. If they are in their right mind, they will certainly select Skin, which I think is one of Almodovar’s best and most entertaining films.

I am a bit surprised to see Belgium select Bullhead over Cannes prizewinner The Kid With a Bike from the highly respected Dardenne Brothers and also over Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight grand prize winner, the brilliant coming-of-age story Les Geants.

France usually picks something out of the main competition in Cannes, especially because festival director Thierry Fremaux is also on France’s official Oscar selection committee. But this year the country chose the well-received film that opened the smaller Critics Week competition, Declaration of War, an emotional story of young parents trying to deal with their child’s cancer diagnosis. Perhaps after seeing the Academy ignore last year’s home-grown Cannes Grand Prize winner Of Gods and Men they decided to go in a different direction. They ignored potential candidate Polisse, which won the Jury Prize in this year’s main competition at the fest. They also passed over another French-bred competition entry, the enormously popular The Artist (which added to its laurels by winning the Audience Award today at the San Sebastian Film Festival). The black-and-white silent film set and shot in Hollywood is probably not perceived as French enough, despite the Gallic credentials of director Michel Hazanavicius and star Jean Dujardin (Best Actor in Cannes). A Weinstein Company source told me they aren’t upset as they are aiming for a Best Picture slot and don’t necessarily want the film perceived as a foreign language picture.

Highlights among other official selections so far: Read More »

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