Documentary chronicles director’s experience under house arrest in Iran


Censorship and art make strange bedfellows. This is Not a Film is the product of such a coupling. Chronicling a day in the life of director Jafar Panahi (pictured), under house arrest for propaganda against the Islamic government, the story that is captured is almost too bizarre to be non-fiction.

Panahi is stuck in his apartment while waiting for an appeal to a 20-year ban on filmmaking and a six-year prison sentence. The camera filming is left rolling. Panahi just picks it up and moves from room to room. Phone calls, meals and cigarette breaks are documented, as well as interactions with some strange guests.

Who would have believed that the comedic foil would be an iguana or that the sudden introduction of a substitute custodian could be used in surprising ways?

Although Panahi doesn’t outright explain his situation, the camera plays witness to it. As his friend and fellow filmmaker Mojtaba Mirtahmasb arrives to take the camera, the viewer slowly gets a larger picture of what is happening.

Panahi’s politics do not sit well with the government, and the government has forced him to stop producing work. Whether through defiance or an inherent need to express himself, Panahi attempts to reenact the script to the film which he was banned from making.

A mere diatribe would only entrench ideas. Panahi’s experience – with confinement, control brokered from afar and the impending chaos of the evening – all allude to a deeper anxiety of living in a country that can so callously turn on its own people.

Shot partially on an iPhone and smuggled into France in a cake for a last-minute submission to Cannes Film Festival, The is Not a Film is well worth seeing.

Published in Volume 66, Number 28 of The Uniter (June 27, 2012)

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