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Even house arrest and potential imprisonment cannot stop Iranian auteur Jafar Panahi from telling cinematic stories

THIS IS NOT A FILM (IN FILM NIST) (Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, 2011)
Maysles Cinema
343 Malcolm X Blvd. between 127th & 128th Sts.
January 30-31, $10, 7:30

“You call this a film?” Jafar Panahi asks rhetorically about halfway through the revealing documentary This Is Not a Film. After several arrests beginning in July 2009 for supporting the opposition party, the highly influential and respected Iranian filmmaker (Crimson Gold, Offside) was convicted in December 2010 for “assembly and colluding with the intention to commit crimes against the country’s national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic.” Although facing a six-year prison sentence and twenty-year ban on making or writing any kind of movie, Panahi is a born storyteller, so he can’t stop himself, no matter the risks. Under house arrest, Panahi has his friend, fellow director Mojtaba Mirtahmasb (Lady of the Roses), film him with a handheld DV camera over ten days as Panahi plans out his next movie, speaks with his lawyer, lets his pet iguana climb over him, and is asked to watch a neighbor’s dog, taking viewers “behind the scenes of Iranian filmmakers not making films.” Panahi even pulls out his iPhone to take additional video, photographing New Year’s fireworks that sound suspiciously like a military attack. Panahi is calm throughout, never panicking (although he clearly does not want to take care of the barking dog) and not complaining about his situation, which becomes especially poignant as he watches news reports on the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan. “But you can’t make a film now anyhow, can you?” Mirtahmasb — who will later be arrested and imprisoned as well — asks at one point. “So what I can’t make a film?” Panahi responds. “That means I ask you to take a film of me? Do you think it will turn into some major work of art?” This Is Not a Film, which was smuggled out of Iran in a USB drive hidden in a birthday cake so it could be shown at Cannes, is indeed a major work of art, an important document of government repression of free speech as well as a fascinating examination of one man’s intense dedication to his art and the creative process. Shortlisted for the Best Documentary Academy Award, This Is Not a Film is screening January 30-31 at the Maysles Institute as part of the “Oscar Buzz” series, which continues February 15-16 with the Oscar-nominated Detropia, followed by Q&As with codirectors Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, and culminates with a free Oscar viewing party on February 24 that includes unlimited refills of organic popcorn

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