Jafar Panahi Remembers Abbas Kiarostami


Jafar Panahi, the talented and persecuted Iranian filmmaker, is – as everyone knows – banned from making films (he’s made 3 since the sentence came down), banned from traveling, and forbidden from speaking to foreigners or giving interviews (he continues to give interviews). The man is a hero. Panahi needs no introduction and if you’ve been reading me for 5 minutes you know my feelings about his work and his life. Because of his situation, any time any word from him makes it out (there are a few journalists who know how to get to him, or whom he is in contact with, and then the word spreads to the rest of us), I am thrilled. Light from the caves. Keep on, Panahi, keep on!

Panahi got his start as an assistant to the late great Iranian auteur (truly deserving of that label), Abbas Kiarostami, who just died at the age of 76. Kiarostami wrote some scripts for Panahi, and was instrumental in giving Panahi his start. In recent years, as Panahi’s situation worsened, attracting international attention, Kiarostami – who has escaped persecution (his films were not as political as Panahi’s) – would speak out in support of Panahi as well as all of the Iranian artists either in prison or silenced. When this happens, and it happens from the main stage at Cannes or the Berlinale: this is a political act. People in Iran are watching. People in Iran who hate what is happening see this, hear this, and know that there are millions of people “out here” who think what is happening is appalling. And no matter how much the censors and the mullahs and the idiots in charge there want to stop the back-and-forth flow of information: it is too late. We hear from them, they hear from us. It’s the Internet age, bitches: you cannot control it. Just let it go.

And so, Jafar Panahi has reached out – through a translator who has since passed it on to the outside world – with a statement of tribute for his old mentor, Abbas Kiarostami. It’s a beautiful reminiscence about how their friendship started and what Kiarostami taught him.

My favorite bit is this.

Later that afternoon, he asked me to ride with him to another location. Along the way, he stopped and gave me a handkerchief to use as a blindfold, which I did. He continued to drive for a while and stopped again. He helped me get off the car, held my hand, and, after walking me for a couple of minutes, asked me to remove the blindfold. I opened my eyes and saw what turned out to be the final shot of “Through the Olive Trees,” that majestic landscape! As I was stunned by the view, Mr. Kiarostmi told me, “That’s my vision. That’s how I see this place.”

The experience taught me a valuable lesson. I realized the importance of having a vision and how each filmmaker needs to develop his or her vision. The spot we were standing on was Mr. Kiarostami’s vision. He didn’t tell me that was the best vantage point. He just said that was his point of view, and I realized I had to have mine.

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