|Jafar Panahi and Igi in This is Not a Film|
TIFF 2011's opening night festivities were emblematic of the Festival's sometimes chaotic diversity. While a press screening of the highly-anticipated Moneyball and the world premiere of Davis Guggenheim's U2 doc From the Sky Down thrilled the red carpet media at other theaters, one of the larger screens at TIFF's flagship venue, the Bell Lightbox, hosted a free screening of This is Not a Film, the 75-minute video diary documenting a day in the life of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi.
Panahi has been under house arrest in his apartment in Tehran since May 2010, after spending nearly three months in Evin Prison. The internationally celebrated director (a neorealist who works often with non-actors and real locations, his most recent film was 2007's Offiside) spent nearly three months in prison last year, and is currently appealing a sentence of six years in prison and a 20 year ban from filmmaking on charges of "assembly and colluding with the intention to commit crimes against the country's national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic." (Panahi's wife has said her husband, an outspoken supporter of the opposition movement who was initially arrested near a gathering at the grave of slain protester Neda Agha-Soltan, had been working on a film that "had nothing to do with the regime.")
This is Not a Film, billed in the end credits as "an effort by Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb," is a dispatch from Panahi's life behind closed doors--it stemmed from Mirtahmasb's desire to go "behind the scenes of Iranian filmmakers not making films"--and as such it's implicitly about the regime that put him there. That regime is well aware of the film, which was infamously smuggled out of Iran for its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on a flash drive hidden in a cake. Originally scheduled to appear in Toronto with the movie, on Monday Mirtahmasb was stopped at Tehran Airport, where his passport and luggage were confiscated, and he barred from leaving the country. That very recent turn of events gives chilling irony to one moment in Film, in which Mirtahmasb, filmed by Panahi on his iPhone, says with a laugh, "Take a shot of me in case I'm arrested."