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Award-winning Taxi filmmaker on art and politics in Iran

Source: Radio Zamaneh

Jafar Panahi won this year’s Berlinale Golden Bear prize for his film "Taxi"

Jafar Panahi, the winner of this year’s Berlinale Golden Bear prize, responded to statements from the head of Iran’s Cinema Organization about the “political” nature of Panahi’s recognition by the film festival, saying that “for many years the art scene [in Iran] has been haunted by the footsteps of politics”.

Panahi accuses the Islamic Republic government of sacrificing numerous films for political reasons and blocking them from being screened, adding that the Iranian government’s political treatment of artistic endeavours has denied filmmakers the right to complain about the political handling of artistic creations.

In an interview with ILNA the day after his film won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, Jafar Panahi said all Iranian filmmakers would prefer to have their films debut in their own country, but a political wall keeps them from realizing their wish.

While expressing joy over the recognition of his film at the Berlin festival, Panahi said: “Those in power always accuse us of making festival films that suit the sensibilities of foreigners, but they’re hiding behind the walls of politics and do not mention the fact that they never allowed us to screen our films in Iran.”

Jafar Panahi’s film Taxi won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival on Saturday February 14; however, Panahi was not at the festival to accept the honour in person as he is banned from traveling abroad. Panahi was arrested twice during Iran’s election protests of 2009 and was sentenced to six years in prison and a 20-year ban from filmmaking and traveling abroad.

Golden Bear Berlinale 2015 "Taxi" Jafar Panahi
Hanna Saeidi accepted the price on behalf of her oncle

In his interview with ILNA, Panahi referred to the letter written by Hojjatollah Ayyubi, the head of Iran’s Cinema Organization, to Dieter Kosslick, director of the Berlin Film Festival. He noted all of Ayyubi’s “beautiful words” but added they are mere words upon which Ayyubi himself never acts.

“In his latest letter, he [Ayyubi] says culture and cinema mean the dismantling of walls and fences; these are beautiful words that would truly endure if they were acted upon. We believe that Mr. Ayyubi needs to dismantle the walls that he and his managers build and then call on others to get rid of walls,” Panahi said.

Ayyubi’s letter, which was written when the film was accepted by the Berlin Film Festival, says: “I am sorry that you are using a film by a filmmaker who according to his country’s laws is banned from filmmaking (but continues to make films) and that you are trying to get everyone on the taxi of new misunderstandings against the people of Iran.”

Ayyubi goes on to add: “Despite what is being said at the Berlin Film Festival, the maker of Taxi is on the high-speed train of his life and enjoys all the benefits of his free life.”

The letter concludes by saying: “I, like millions of cinema aficionados, hear the heavy steps of politics at the Berlin Film Festival. Like all those millions, I would have preferred if the Berlinale were a reminder of art and culture. But it appears that you prefer politics to art. Hear the footsteps of politics! The bricks that are being stacked at your festival are rapidly building a new Berlin Wall around your festival.”

Pahani responds by saying: “For many years we have heard the footsteps of politics in the art scene, especially in the world of cinema. Yet Mr. Ayyubi calls on others to separate art from politics. One wonders why he himself does not act on his words!”

Panahi goes on to say: “Do you remember all the films that were sacrificed at the foot of the wall of politics and never saw the screen, and all the force and energy of their makers that was shelved and caged?” Panahi adds that the Fajr Film Festival never responded to his enquiry about screening his film, even though he had submitted it to the Iranian festival.

Jafar Panahi in a scene from Taxi

Hossein Noushabadi, a spokesman for Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Guidance, reacted to the awarding of the Golden Bear to Panahi’s Taxi, saying: “For years we have been witnessing the politically motivated actions of the Berlin Film Festival against the Islamic Republic of Iran in their choice of films that show a tainted image of the Islamic regime.”

Noushabadi urged filmmakers “who for various reasons face obstacles in their artistic activities, not to become puppets of the regime’s opponents and enemies and not to allow false accolades to demean the cultural and religious originality of their country”.

The ministry spokesman expressed every hope that the obstacles and limitations faced by individuals like Jafar Panahi inside Iran can be removed. “We look forward to these artists, instead of taking their work outside the country, engaging in their artistic activities freely within the country with a commitment to their people and homeland.”

Following its success in the Berlin Film Festival, Taxi was bought by the French Film Company Memento to be shown in cinemas across France beginning in April. Celluloid Dreams also reported that the film will be shown in over thirty countries including 20 European countries, as well as China, Hong Kong,Taiwan. Columbia and Brazil.

Taxi | 2 clips - Winner Berlin Film Festival 2015 Jafar Panahi


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