Blog Archive

Blog Archive – February, 2012

Jafar Panahi's "This is Not A Film"

February 23, 2012

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

“This is Not A Film” is a courageous, almost cunning, sometimes humorous document by Jafar Panahi, a man who cannot be silenced. Panahi is a well known and accomplished Iranian filmmaker and, we learn in this production, an irrepressible character.

Foolishly the Iranian government arrested him and banned him from producing further films. Thus the tile of this production.  on his work. (Panahi has avoided jail, for now, but lives in virtual house arrest, unable to do what he most loves—make films. But that doesn’t stop him from holding a camera.) With his friend and co-director Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, from within his living room, Panahi has produced something of a masterpiece in my opinion.

I have just previewed a newly released video documentary of this man’s modest attempt to survive as an artist. With his cell phone video and a professional camera sitting on a table in his apartment, Panahi shows us his present predicament. He informs us of his punishment, demonstrates his essence as a filmmaker, quietly assuring us of his indefatigable spirit.

Seeing Panahi speaking by phone to his attorney we learn the status of his legal case. Watching him read and explain a script to visiting colleague Mirtahmasb (holding the camera), we feel his skill and passion as a film-maker. Following him, camera-in-his-hand, we meet his neighbors, feel his humanity, and admire his ability to make the most mundane encounter into a filmic delight. We sit with Panahi in his living-room, reviewing two of his earlier films. It’s all there--his past, his present and his future. (That is to say, future  success in resuming his work.).  Far from feeling pity or anger about Panahi’s political plight, we are reassured that this spirit and talent cannot be stifled.

This autobiographical document demonstrates the depth of this artist’s skill at capturing the candid moment, as he did in the wonderful early film “Mirror”. There, as a young director, Panahi follows the little girl actress who abruptly decides she no longer wants to act. She leaves the set (a city bus) and abandons the film-crew to make her way home alone by foot. Panahi seizes the moment and with camera, follows the child clandestinely through Tehran’s city streets. Her microphone still intact, we hear her candid dialogue with people she encounters as she tries to find her house. That simple episode, Panahi made into an extraordinary film. (Look for it.) And Panahi’s latest document –not a film—captures this artist’s same sensibility.

How much editing was done on this new ‘document’ we do not know. The story seems to take place within a single day, beginning with his breakfast and ending with his night shots of Tehran’s New Year fireworks from his balcony. Jafar Panahi is just shooting whatever is around him. But being a master of the unrehearsed unplanned moment, he transforms it into art.

As with so many Middle Eastern stories, this is slow moving. And, as often happens when an artist faces government censorship, US press reviews of “This is Not A Film” overemphasize hardships confronting foreign directors. I fear that in a country, in this case Iran which most Americans view so negatively, many of those  attending the showing will find in it yet another reason they would be happy to see this country, one that has produced so many fine filmmakers, attacked by US bombers. One hopes theater goers will take the time to reflect on the creative, deeply Iranian spirit exhibited in this document.

Still, one cannot help deny the reality of Panahi’s situation. After all, he purposefully produced this to inform the international community about his political condition. If I were on the Iranian film board censorship panel, I would be proud of him.

The film opens to its US theatrical premier at New York City’s Film Forum February 29th.


[ Jafar Panahi's "This is Not A Film" ]

Human Rights Fueling War

February 03, 2012

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Human Rights activists and their media friends seem shocked by revelations that Libyan rebel forces are torturing detainees in Libya.

Why? In a recent “Salon’ opinion article (The Human Rights ‘Success’ in Libya; Glen Greenwald reviews how invasions “… are almost always sold by appeal to human rights concerns”. And they do not stop. Greenwald describes how such abuses become part and parcel of a military campaign aimed to topple a ‘brutal’ leader. Anything they execute is justified by that heroic shared goal, even though those western backers themselves conveniently escape any association or responsibility with such abuses.

What we have recently been told about the behavior of Libyan forces towards the people they have captured —first migrant workers they rounded up, then the former regime supporters, and now, detained Libyans during and following the invasion-- should come as no surprise. Some may have gloated over the way the former Libya president was treated by his captors. There were few sympathizers for Gaddafi and no critics of the rebels’ method of meting out that piece of justice. Yet, surely this behavior was systematic of a savagery encouraged by their western supporters who themselves were engaged in what is only later found to be ‘indiscriminate killings’ during their much celebrated smart-bombing of Libya. The murders and abuse by Libyan ground forces was inarguably an expression ‘license to kill’ granted to the heroic rebels by their partners in the air.

In my blog of November 2, 2011 ( I expressed by disgust and shame over the license accorded Libyan ‘rebels’-- allies of our esteemed NATO bombers. Only now, conveniently, we hear evidence that suggests that the widely publicized attack on Moammar Gaddafi may not have been so unique an occurrence.

In his January 27 article in Salon, Greenwald compares celebratory claims made by the invaders of Iraq in 2003 with a 2011 report that “Iraq is quickly slipping back into authoritarianism as its security forces abuse protesters, harass journalists, and torture detainees”, and how Iraq is “becoming a budding police state”. Greenwald concludes “Ironically, those who are the loudest advocates for these wars and then prematurely celebrate the outcome (and themselves) bear significant responsibility for these subsequent abuses: by telling the world that the invasion was a success, it causes the aftermath — the most important part — to be neglected. There is nothing noble about invading and bombing a country into regime change”, he continues, “if what one ushers in is mass instability along with tyranny and abuse by a different regime: typically one that is much more sympathetic to the invading regime-changers.”  But, again, human righters win the day.

As righteous western leaders, their regional lackeys, and human rights documenters supply us with a steady account of human rights abuses in other ‘unpopular’ regimes in support of their selective ‘Arab Spring’ campaign, they are preparing us, the public, for their next noble adventure. All the good people of Europe and America, desperate to share their way of life and their subservience to Israel, ostensibly deeply sensitive to the suffering of Arab sisters and brothers, are ready to sanction yet another war.

Forget about the catastrophe and the abuses that will inevitably follow. We are a naïve, acquiescent and complicit  public.

[ Human Rights Fueling War ]

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