To be deprived and suppressed from doing something that you love is always a difficult challenge to face. This notion becomes especially difficult in the world of music, art, writing and filmmaking. To be prevented from creating and sharing one’s work with the world is every artist’s nightmare and no one knows this better than the Iranian director Jafar Panahi.
During the disputed Iranian presidential elections in 2009, Panahi, along with several other filmmakers – who supported the anti-Ahmadinejad protests – wanted to make the oppression of the new regime public. Soon, they were detained, beat up and later on released. A year later, vague charges of making an anti-government film followed, sentencing the talented director to six years of house-arrest and enforcing a twenty-year ban from making films.
This Is Not a Film documents one day in the life of the director during his house-arrest whilst he awaits news regarding his drawn-out legal appeal. Panahi’s modern Tehran apartment plays as a backdrop to the story where everything and nothing happens. An insider’s look into the daily routine of the filmmaker sees him drinking too many cups of tea, watching TV, watering the plants, talking on the phone to his family and feeding his daughter’s pet Iguana – no script, no special effects, no soundtrack.
He re-visits some of his past work by watching them on DVD, all while talking to a good-friend and a fellow director Mirtahmasb – who stays behind the camera the entire time. He then shifts the mood and starts reading from a script he wrote for a film that he never got the chance to make.
This Is Not a Film has no beginning, middle or finish; a story without star-crossed lovers, heroes or moments of epiphany. Yes, all of the customary elements are absent from this production and yet, the story still manages to have a commanding presence. It is a tale of both courage and ingenuity which focuses on the importance of speaking out during times of oppression. Panahi’s desperation is evident – especially when he frantically tries to convey the events of the film he was banned from making – and his urge to create is both inspiring and heartbreaking.
Jafar Panahi, one of Iran’s most influential filmmakers, is a true inspiration. This Is Not a Film really isn’t a film; it’s so much more.