Among the 276 artists invited to join their ranks this year, the Academy including a pleasing selection of world cinema luminaries, ranging from recent first-time Oscar nominee Emmanuelle Riva to Romanian New Wave cinematographer Oleg Mutu. One name, however, that was particularly applauded from all sides was trailblazing Iranian auteur Jafar Panahi.
Still serving a sentence of six years’ house arrest for propaganda against the Iranian government, Panahi has made his last two features within these restrictions — though in bold defiance of the government’s decree that he not engage in any filmmaking activity for 20 years. The first of these, his acclaimed personal diary-doc “This Is Not a Film,” was smuggled out of Iran on a flash drive to make its Cannes debut, and wound up on last year’s 15-title shortlist for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar. It didn’t get a nomination, sadly, but it clearly raised Panahi’s profile sufficiently within AMPAS to prompt an invitation from two separate factions: the Directors’ and Documentary branches.
Panahi is arguably best known for his narrative filmmaking: his 1995 debut, the critically beloved child’s-eye drama “The White Balloon,” was Iran’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar that year. So it was interesting to see which Academy branch the director chose to join. (AMPAS rules dictate that individuals can only belong to one.) This statement released by Panahi earlier this week — and posted on Academy governor Michael Moore’s website — suggests that he’s gone with the documentarians:
“I would like to sincerely thank the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for inviting me to join their organization. I am especially grateful to Michael Moore and the documentary branch for nominating me.
“It”s an honor for me to join such a prestigious organization, and I am proud to accept the invitation on behalf of the large family of the Iranian filmmakers, who have steadfastly represented the best of Iranian arts and culture despite all the limitations they have been subjected to.
“I understand this membership affords me the chance to see some of the best films every year and vote on their merits. For someone in my situation who has been banned from making films, viewing the works of international colleagues is an opportunity that I would deeply cherish. If I am forbidden from making films for twenty years, I can at least share the joys of filmmaking in a vicarious manner.”
It’s touching to see that amid the numerous factors compromising his life and career right now, Panahi is still prepared to take his Academy membership this seriously. (Would that every voting member would do the same.) This is one addition that reflects very well on the organization indeed.
Panahi’s latest film “Closed Curtain” — a meta-narrative effort that reflects directly on his own imprisonment — premiered at Berlin in February, where it won him the Best Screenplay award, though I believe it’s still awaiting a US distributor.