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In December 2010, Jafar Panahi, one of the most internationally acclaimed of Iranian directors (The Circle, Offside), was handed a sentence of six years imprisonment and a 20-year ban on filmmaking activities for alleged crimes that included “propaganda against the Islamic Republic”. Prohibited from speaking to the press or travelling abroad, he was placed under house arrest while his appeal took place. Seeking a way around the ban, he invited colleague Mojtaba Mirtahmasb to record him acting out an unproduced screenplay. What follows is a fascinating meditation on creativity, artistic expression and censorship.
Panahi’s frustration is obvious, and there are subtle hints throughout that living in constant fear of unpredictable oppression extends beyond Iranian filmmakers (the film was smuggled out of Iran on a USB stick hidden in a cake) to Iranian society as a whole. Since completion, Mirtahmasb was one of the six filmmakers arrested last September, accused of spying for the BBC, while Panahi’s sentence has sadly been upheld. (Notes by Kevin Coyne.)