Not that filmmakers should get special treatment, but when it's somebody you've met, however briefly, and who seems to be a decent, dedicated family man, it's hard not to take a personal interest in a news story. Sorry, let me back up: Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was arrested on Monday night, along with his wife and daughter, and as of this writing he's still detained, according to Reuters. Panahi's son says he doesn't know where his father has been taken. Panahi wasn't locked up for drunk driving or assaulting a photographer: he's in jail because of the political movement that he supports.
A prosecutor in Tehran denies that Panahi's arrest was politically motivated, although he's not revealing why Panahi and his family members were picked up. Panahi vocally supported the opposition party in protesting the presidential election results last June, and he was arrested the following month at a ceremony to honor a murdered anti-government protester. Panahi was denied permission to attend the Berlin Film Festival last month, as detailed by indieWIRE. International protests of his most recent arrest have begun, says Times Online.
Offside, Panahi's last film, dramatized a teenaged girl's determined efforts to watch an important soccer match in person, even though women in Iran are not allowed to attend men's sporting events. It's a terrific, all-ages film, subtle yet powerful in delineating the everyday frustrations that arise from the simplest desires when an oppressive regime is in power. Offside played the festival circuit in 2006, and I attended an AFI Fest screening in Los Angeles with Panahi in person.
During the Q&A session after the movie, Panahi explained that Offside was inspired by his daughter: in her early teens, she managed to sneak into a soccer game and watch it with him, even though it was against the law. As he was leaving the theater, I spoke with him briefly. It was nothing more than a quick "hello, thank you for the film, that was terrific," maybe a moment more, just another quick encounter in the rush and bustle of a film festival. Still, his polite graciousness was appreciated, and the whole evening made a deep impression on me. (At Twitch, Michael Guillen captured a similar Q&A session from the Toronto film festival a little earlier that year.)
And now Panahi is being held with his wife and his inspirational daughter, in a location far away from the public spotlight, his son doesn't even know where he is, and who knows what will happen to him and to his family and to all the others who are being held unjustly in Iran?