Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Interview with Movie Director Jafar Panahi

Paying a price in a social Movement is inevitable
Interview with Movie Director Jafar Panahi
Conducted by: Delaram Ali and Kaveh Mozafari
Saturday August 25, 2007
Translated by: M A

Born in 1960 in the city of Mianeh[1], Jafar Panahi is the best known Iranian Director in the world. His two films, Dayereh (Circle) and offside, which never received the required license to be shown [inside Iran], was able to bring to public attention, the suffering of the Iranian Women. He is among the supporters and a signatory of the Campaign to collect one million signatures to change the discriminatory laws in Iran. We sat with him to talk about the women’s issues as well as the Campaign.

---Mr. Panahi, what was the idea and motive behind the making of the movies Circle and offside? Meaning why did you put your emphasis on the women’s issue?

--- In the very first movies that I directed, including Baad Konak (Balloon), the theme and the main emphasis has always been the issue of “social injustices” and naturally when you live in a society such as Iran, you have to deal with the women’s issue. I do not mean that the women are the only subject of these injustices but rather they are the most deprived segment. Off course men are affected by these discriminations as well. Since they have families and in a society where such discrimination abounds, it will affect them as well. Off course in neither of these two movies, we have taken side but rather have narrated the reality and let the viewer’s judge where the discrimination comes from. Is it because of wrong policies? Incorrect culture? Is it rooted in religion and tradition? Or the outcome of wrong laws?

In reality, the people in my movies are representatives of certain mindset in our culture and at the same time subjects of indiscrimination from above and sometimes they have learned to explain away the realities. Both prisoners and the jailors are imprisoned in a bigger prison of unconsciousness. I believe in most instances the people have not accepted nor do they want to accept that discrimination exists.

In any case, this is the law that rules and people can not do much about it.

--- What is your view on the human activists? For example, does the Campaign not show to some degree the attempt to change the discrimination against women? Meaning those who are not trying to explain away the realities [but rather doing something about it]?

--- Yes. Unfortunately today in Iran we are witnessing the rulers who write the laws and try to enforce it with all means. Off course, this is the virtue of an ideological government which believes their way in the only way and it can not be changed. We are witnessing that even some religious heads (Olama) have shown positive opinion toward the Campaign or believe these issues must change based on today’s realities. But the ruling authorities do not recognize such interpretations. Because they see it as a deviation from explaining away the status quo.

I believe that this virtue of an ideological government looks for a certain model and it can not be changed by anyone. Hence, a Campaign such as yours becomes political which carries with it such judgements as propaganda against the state.

--- Mr. Panahi, today many of the Iranian artists avoid challenging the social problems with such slogans as “Arts for Arts”. They are in essence sacrificing the issue of a “committed artist” by separating themselves from the arena of social activism. Why is that?

--- We must not forget that there are differences between political discourses versus a social discourse. For example, I always say I am not a political director. I am not saying that as an individual, I do not have political ideas or beliefs but rather I do not produce political movies. Because I believe that a political movie has a historical purpose but a social movie with artistic and theatrical characteristics is deep and will not die with the passage of time. If I had political ideas in my movies, you would not have liked the actors that you enjoy, but if you see them share the same limitations, you would sympathize with them. With a social movie, you are searching for different segments of the society and try to recreate that. Additionally, what the actors picture it in their acting is not the result of their social activism but rather it is a very similar to when a director or some of the activists face a similar issue that is not necessarily due to a coordinated effort but rather a reaction to people with common worries that at some point may coincide with each other.

--- Mr. Panahi, the last question is that in your films that are women-related issues, do you pay any expense for it? And in what ways? In general, in such activities as the Campaign or producing a piece of art that looks at the social issues why must one pay for it?

--- We have to see under what society these demands and issues are brought up. Up to now we have not lived in an open society so it is natural that if it is not centered in the framework of the ruling ideology, it will have certain cost to it. Meaning any social activist or anyone else who has issues must pay for it. These expenses are not necessarily god or bad but it is a process that must be taken. No movement in a closed society can achieve its goals without paying for it and it is their responsibility to pay for it. These could be in the form of censorship of a movie or the pressure that is placed upon the activists of the Campaign.

[1] City in East Azarbaijan province, Iran.

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