NYFF Spotlight: This Is Not a Film
Posted by Simran Bhalla on 9.29.2011
Why you should see it:
The internationally acclaimed director Jafar Panahi, a supporter of the 2009 election protests in Iran, was arrested in 2010 for “certain offenses” against the Islamic Republic. He was sentenced to a six-year prison term and a 20-year ban on filmmaking, and has since been awaiting the verdict of his appeal under house arrest in Tehran. During this time, he collaborated with documentarian Mojtaba Mir Tahmaseb to film a day of this experience (on a digital camera and, at some points, an iPhone). The result, This Is Not a Film, was smuggled into Cannes on a USB drive hidden inside a cake and Panahi has been unable to leave Iran to attend its various festival showings. Panahi attempts to stay in front of the camera in order not to disobey his sentence, while Mir Tahmaseb “directs” this underground project—a dangerous undertaking, for he was arrested on September 17th for allegedly spying for BBC Persia. This film, a work of great courage, humor, and self-reflection, is an example of how art in Iran flourishes despite the nation's ever-restricted circumstances.
This Is Not a Film made it to the Cannes Film Festival this year at the last minute and also played at the Toronto International Film Festival.
About the director:
Jafar Panahi is a preeminent filmmaker of the Iranian New Wave. His first feature film was The White Balloon (1995), which won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1995. It was scripted by his mentor, Abbas Kiarostami. Like Kiarostami, Panahi’s style is neo-realist and often blends reality and fiction, exploring the relationship between the two in cinema. Panahi’s other films include Offside (2006), about girls trying to watch a football match in Iran, and The Circle (2000), winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, which also critically examines the place of women in modern-day Iran.
What the critics are saying:
Eric Kohn for indieWIRE: “'This is Not a Film' is, in fact, a great one.”
Peter Debruge for Variety: “Standing at his balcony, filming the revelry with his iPhone, he seems to be saying that directing is more defiant an act than lighting a firecracker or two. Truth be told, Panahi's poignant 'Film' is infinitely more explosive.”
What the NYFF programmers say:
"This is Not a Film is the latest work by Jafar Panahi, the banned Iranian filmmaker who directed a short we screened last year at the New York Film Festival and who’s been in the festival many times before that. This is a rather ingenious project he made inside his own apartment in Iran with his iPhone and some other small digital cameras, which begins as an apparent documentary about his house arrest, but then becomes a much more complicated and playful kind of essay film about Panahi’s approach to filmmaking and the dilemma he presently finds himself in. It shows how creative somebody can be without even leaving their own apartment. This is a film that was actually smuggled out of Iran in a cake on a hard drive so it could get to Cannes where it premiered as a late addition to the program. It’s an enormously funny and moving work." —Scott Foundas, Associate Program Director