Thursday, September 22, 2011


Imagine you're a filmmaker. Maybe you even are one. And it's all you've ever wanted to do, and you're good at it, and the world has come to love your work and love you for doing that work.

Now imagine your government has banned you from doing it for 20 years because it finds your work politically objectionable in some way.

That's the plight in which we find Jafar Panahi as this elegantly moving little documentary, This is Not a Film, opens. His case is on appeal; his lawyer is on the fight; his family is trying to keep his hopes up. But he's at home and going a bit stir crazy, a completed script that's ready to shoot tormenting him. So he asks a fellow filmmaker, a documentarian, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, to come over and just noodle around with him. Bring a camera.

The resulting portrait of an artist going a little stir crazy feels like it should be a lot more uncomfortable to watch than it is; Panahi is doing his best to handle his situation with grace and humor and the cracks only really show once, towards the end of an extended "scene" in which he is reading from his script and sort of enacting it in a room of his home (I have been banned from writing and directing, but not from acting, he tells us early on. Bit of a stretch, but aren't loopholes always?).

For me, the film is almost stolen by Panahi's daughter's pet iguana, who treats Panahi as part of the furniture and stares impassively into Mirtahmasb's camera for long, hilarious seconds in the process -- which becomes retroactively even more amusing later when a neighbor who knows Panahi is home and bored tries to press him into dogsitting a yappy dachsund who wants no part of the filmmaking and comes unglued at the sight of the equipment.

This is Not a Film was screened for free at the Toronto International Film Festival, and while there was no way Panahi was going to be let out of the country to attend, there were hopes that Mirtahmasb could -- alas, dashed; the documentarian was detained on his way to Toronto and may now be in the same pickle as Panahi. Good thing the duo seems to have invented a new way of not making a film: grab a guy who isn't in trouble yet and have him run the cameras while they talk about the film they'd be making if allowed. Repeat until everyone in the country is banned from making films. Nice job, Iran.

Oh, and in case you missed it, here's an AudioBoo I recorded with Paul Laroquod soon after seeing the film.

#TIFF11 #1: This Is Not A Film (mp3)

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