Iranian master director Jafar Panahi, perhaps emboldened after his movie, Taxi, won the recent Berlin Film Festival's top Golden Bear, has asked the authorities in his country to allow the screening of his latest work.
Panahi has been banned from making movies till 2030, and is now under some sort of house arrest in Teheran with a jail-term threat hanging on him. But Panahi being Panahi -- an epitome of courage and defiance -- secretly made three films since the restriction was slapped on him in 2010. He also had the movies smuggled into Cannes and Berlin, Taxi being the latest.
In Taxi, Panahi himself plays a driver, going around the streets of Teheran picking up a motley group of commuters -- many of whom open up to him and narrate fascinating stories.Panahi in a rare interview to the media the other day said that as much as he was happy about the Berlin honour, he was saddened by the fact that his own countrymen would not be able to watch Taxi unless the authorities permitted this.
"The people in power accuse us of making films for foreign festivals," Panahi also told Ilna, the semi-official Iranian news agency. "They hide behind political walls and don't say that our movies are never authorized for screening in Iranian cinemas."Iran's Government has not been keeping quiet either. As Taxi played in Berlin, the head of the Cinema Organisation in Tehran, Hojjatollah Ayyubi, warned the Festival Director, Dieter Kosslick: "I regret that you wish to drive everybody in a taxi of new misunderstandings about the Iranian people by screening a film made by a director who has been banned by law from making movies - but nevertheless, he has done exactly that. I am delighted to announce that the director of Taxi continues to drive in the fast lane of his life, freely enjoying all of its blessings." This was conveyed in an open letter carried by the Iranian media.
Despite this, a more liberal climate now prevails in Iran with the relatively progressive Hassan Rouhani having taken over as the nation's President in 2014. Artists have been breathing easy. Also, the Berlin victory is a huge honour not only for Panahi but also Iran. Given this situation, the authorities in Tehran may find it difficult to impose a harsher punishment on their star auteur.