This Is Not a Film: Politics and Cinema in Iran

The estimable Film Forum in New York will resent the U.S. theatrical premiere of Jafar Panhai’s “This Is Not a Film,” opening February 29 for a two-week run.

In December of 2010, the Iranian director Jafar Panahi received a six-year prison sentence and a twenty-year ban from filmmaking, due to his open support of the opposition party in Iran’s 2009 elections.

This intimate, modest, yet startling film was secretly shot on an iPhone and a digital camera by Panahi’s close friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and smuggled into France in a cake for a last-minute submission to the prestigious Cannes Film Fest.

With candid humility, Panahi shares his story ideas for a new film, as well as describes his day-to-day life, as he waits for a decision on his appeal.

Though the movie is almost entirely confined to the director’s Tehran apartment, it is not dull, claustrophobic, or theatrical.

Instead, we get a revelatory portrait, in which Panahi talks with admirable honesty to Mirtahmasb about his films, speaks to his family and lawyer on the phone, looks after a pet iguana.

More specifically, Panahi even marks off areas of his apartment to describe scenes from a film proposal (about a young woman locked in her room by her religious parents).  At one point, true to his inquisitive nature and endless curiosity, he picks up a camera to interview his building’s janitor.

As the Iranian New Year’s fireworks go off outside his window, Panahi reflects on the meaning of filmmaking, his life’s work—and by implication about the nature and essence of all art forms.

A moving and philosophical reflection on the nature of making art, “This Is Not a Film” achieves a humanistic and universal urgency by calling attention to the socio-political conditions under which creative artists, not only filmmakers, work.

The self-portrait is plain but not conventional, simple and overt in text, but dense, subtle and even subversive in subtext.  Revealing sensitivity and self-awareness, the film is sly, ironic and occasionally darkly humorous in its observations.

Both Panahi and co-director Mirtahmasb are currently banned from filmmaking and from leaving the country. Both men are accused of fomenting anti-government propaganda through their movies. Panahi’s appeal was denied in October. According to the Islamic Republic’s laws, he could be arrested and sent back to jail at any time.

Panahi is the distinguished director of “The Circle,” “Crmison Gold,” and “The White Balloon.”