"The reality of being alive and the dream of keeping cinema alive motivated us to go through the existing limitations in Iranian cinema," director Jafar Panahi wrote to Cannes organizers.
Films by two Iranian directors recently sentenced to jail will be shown for the first time at the Cannes International Film Festival, which opens today on the French Riviera.
Cannes organizers say the films -- by Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof -- were made in "semi-clandestine conditions" and represent the filmmakers' resistance to their sentences.
Panahi and Rasoulof were sentenced in December to six years in prison and barred from filmmaking for 20 years in separate cases after being convicted for working against the Iranian system.
Abbas Bakhtiyari, head of the Iranian Pouya Cultural Center in Paris, talked to RFE/RL's Radio Farda about the film "In Film Nist" ("This Is Not A Film") -- co-directed by Panahi and Mojtaba Mir-Tahmasb and which will be screened on May 20.
"It portrays the life of Panahi who, for the last few months, has been waiting for the clarification of his case by the court of appeal," Bakhtiyari said. "By making this film, Panahi and his colleague, Mir-Tahmasb, are trying to portray the difficulties facing Iran's cinema using the example of a single day of Panahi's life."
The film, he said, shows the life of a director who is under house arrest and cannot make movies.
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Panahi ran afoul of the regime for displaying support for the Green Opposition Movement
Panahi won the Silver Bear for "Offside" at the Berlin Film Festival in 2006.
"Therefore, the director decides to make a film within the four walls of his house," Bakhtiyari said. "He believes that if he does not continue with his work, his life will suffer."
Panahi will also be awarded the Carrosse d'Or (Golden Coach) by the French Film Directors' Society at Cannes.
Rasoulof's film, "Be Omid e Didar" ("Goodbye"), will be shown on May 14 in the parallel "Un Certain Regard" section of the festival, which showcases fresh talent.
The film is about a young, Tehran-based lawyer seeking a visa to leave the country -- the situation in which Rasoulof found himself before his arrest.
In a statement issued on May 7, festival President Gilles Jacob and general delegate Thierry Fremaux said both films were received "in recent days," describing their sending as an "act of courage and also an extraordinary artistic message."
The organizers quoted from a letter that Panahi sent to the festival: "The reality of being alive and the dream of keeping cinema alive motivated us to go through the existing limitations in Iranian cinema," Panahi said.
Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof at the screening of his film "The White Meadows" during the San Sebastian International Film Festival in 2009
Panahi and Rasoulof are currently free on bail pending appeals but forbidden to travel abroad.
Before his arrest, Panahi tried to make a documentary about the opposition Green Movement that arose after Iran's disputed 2009 presidential election. The harsh sentencing was seen as a blow to the cinematic community and a warning to Iranian artists to stay away from politics.
"The court verdict doesn't say anything about Panahi being banned from acting," Bakhtiyari said. "Panahi plays the first role in the film and jointly directs it. The film shows the difficult situation that the cinema of Iran and Iranian filmmakers are currently facing."
Panahi is an internationally acclaimed director known for his socially critical movies, having received numerous awards including the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival and the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Berlin in February and Cannes a year ago invited him to sit on their juries, leaving a symbolic empty chair for him. He was also prevented from attending the Venice festival in September.
Cannes, which runs until May 22, opens today with the premiere of "Midnight In Paris," a romantic comedy by Woody Allen that features French first lady Carla Bruni in a small role.
Twenty films are vying for the Palme d'Or prize for best picture, to be selected by a jury headed by U.S. actor Robert De Niro.
Four women directors -- a record -- are in the running for the prize, alongside top names such as Pedro Almodovar and Lars Von Trier.
written by Antoine Blua, based on reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
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