Jafar Panahi at the airport??!! What a moment to celebrate.

Jafar Panahi and his wife Tahereh Saeedi. At the airport. Leaving Iran. I repeat: JAFAR PANAHI IS LEAVING IRAN.

I can’t believe this day has come. I am almost afraid to believe it. Like it’s a trap. Jafar Panahi’s wife, Tahereh Saeedi, posted a picture on her Instagram, with the following caption:

After 14 years, Jafar’s ban was cancelled and finally we are going to travel together for a few days…

If you have followed me for even five minutes, then you are familiar with how often I post about this man. If you have followed me for almost fifteen years then you really know!

Way back in 2011, I hosted an Iranian Film Blogathon (back when blogathons were a thing). Hosting it was my way of protesting what was happening to him. Years followed. He had been banned from making films, but he kept making films. He was banned from giving interviews and forbidden from leaving the country. He was imprisoned last year right before the nationwide (and international) protests erupted. Panahi was in Evin Prison too, a bad bad place. There was a fire while he was there, there was a Covid outbreak, and people who lived near the prison took videos where you could hear gunfire from inside. That’s where he was. And he’s famous. There are so many non-famous people also living under those horrific barbaric conditions. This is where things have stood. It’s been INTOLERABLE.

I’m not gonna lie. When I saw the picture of him and his wife with the luggage, I started crying. He’s one of my favorite living filmmakers and honestly he’s never really been far from my mind ever since he was arrested back in 2010. He was a target for years and they finally got him. But they never GOT got him.

The rumor is … he might be headed to Cannes. He might be a juror. If this is true … I can’t even deal with it already. I’m gonna flip the fuck OUT. Cannes or no, even if they’re just taking a little personal trip, the travel ban being lifted since being imposed in 2009 – 2009!! – is HUGE. It’s huge in actuality but it’s even more huge symbolically. This is a massive “concession” from the regime, this regime so obsessed with public opinion, with controlling its citizens’ every move. They lost control of the Jafar Panahi narrative the second they arrested him. Did they not think his international public wouldn’t give a shit?

I hesitated to post about it, even though the picture was on his wife’s Instagram … so … it SEEMED real, but I was afraid to believe. But then I read the piece in the Guardian, breaking the news and providing more information. He’s been trapped in that country for almost 15 years. He’s been imprisoned, he’s gone on hunger strike, he’s been banned from pursuing the art he loves, people who work with him are arrested, or have their passports revoked. He has persisted. He risks everything every time he makes a film. (See his most recent No Bears. It’s currently streaming on the Criterion Channel. I love all of his films but this may be one of his best. (I don’t like ranking.)

After all of these years, almost fifteen years of nonstop harassment, of being trapped within Iran’s borders, Jafar Panahi has left the building.

Don’t let people tell you public pressure doesn’t work. The people who say stuff like that are still in high school, mentally. They find caring about things “cringe”. Someone who legitimately CARES about something is to be mocked. Ignore the keyboard critics who tell you you’re “virtue signaling” if you dare to express outrage about what’s happening to a person or a group you are not personally a part of. Not everything is a meme. This is real life, not Twitter snark. Oh, you’re so IRONIC, so COOL for being so DETACHED. If a cause is just – or virtuous – yes, virtuous – then speak up. The public pressure to release Panahi has worked before. Them throwing him in prison last year was a very dangerous sign. The same with Taraneh Alidoosti. They are massive international stars. Arresting them was a sign that the regime was beyond the pale, not caring anymore about public image. Very dangerous. A lot has happened in a year. The game has changed. There’s too much heat on the situation, too many people are paying attention to what is going on. Keyboard critics are irrelevant. Keep making noise.

Seeing Jafar Panahi standing in an airport, smiling, with a huge pile of luggage in front of him is WORTH taking just a moment to be happy happy happy about it. I’m glad I care. I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is still work to be done. Jafar Panahi is SYMBOLIC. He matters to me as a filmmaker, yes. But the people of Iran have HAD it and I am with them all the way. Releasing Panahi is such a big concession I still almost can’t believe it has happened.

Proud that I wrote the piece in the program for the NYFCC awards dinner for Jafar Panahi’s special award (text here). I’ve been waiting for years for this day. Not out of the woods yet. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, I suppose. Be happy. Small victories. And big.

This entry was posted in Directors, Movies and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Jafar Panahi at the airport??!! What a moment to celebrate.

  1. mutecypher says:

    This is great news!

    For their safety, I hope they just don’t get on the return flight. But I think he is such a “love my country, hate my government “ person that they will go back.

    Still, great for them both.

    • sheila says:

      I think the ultimate act of rebellion is to NOT leave. To stay and fight. that’s what Taraneh Alidoosti did too – sooo many great actors have left because of the conditions under which they have to work, and also the punishments inflicted on them. But she stayed. I think maybe their fellow countrymen/women would be let down if they left. I wouldn’t blame them for peace-ing out though. JP has withstood enough for 10 lifetimes.

      If he goes to Cannes – the reaction is going to be INSANE. The mullahs will be soooo infuriated and shamed. Oh well. You are releasing poisonous gas into girls’ schools. Nobody’s on your side. Enjoy the shame.

      I’m so happy to see him smiling – and his wife smiling. I hope they have a blast – flying in an airplane, and visiting another place, and whatever it is they choose to do.

      and see No Bears, mutecypher!! Knowing the context, I think you will understand why this movie – about a filmmaker (played by Panahi) working on a film in a village right on the Turkish border – and seeing how easy it would be to just take a couple of steps across the border. It’s SO good.

      • mutecypher says:

        I saw No Bears on the day he was released from prison. That was a happy coincidence since I had planned to see it on that date anyway. Filmmaking as an act of virtuoso diplomacy – within the village. Filmmaking as an act of love between and conflicting priorities with his actors. It was excellent.

        With that as context, I agree that he’s most likely to stay and more openly make the movies he wants to make.

        • sheila says:

          I forget, I’m sorry – did we discuss No Bears? I can’t remember. So glad you saw it.

          I’m so curious as to what will happen next with him. I want to say he deserves a rest, time to heal but … not sure that’s his style!

  2. Lyrie says:

    I was so happy when I saw the news – and of course, I thought of you. May is Asian heritage month, and knowing he was out of prison when I put out the DVDs of his movies on display at work filled me with joy.

    • sheila says:

      Ohhh this makes me so happy to hear.

      I keep being afraid it’s a trap. I’m almost amazed the regime has caved like this. Their public image is so bad right now – they’re very sensitive to it – even as they crack down even harder, and send poison gas into girls’ schools. These monsters have got to go.

      But we celebrate small victories – and the release of Panahi – and the lift of the travel ban – is HUGE!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.