This is Not a Film (2011)

This is Not a Film (2011) movie poster

directors Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
viewed: 04/05/2013

When simply making a film is a political act, a form of protest, one has to wonder if simply watching the film is also an aspect of that political act, an act of support, albeit of utterly fractional dimension.  This is Not a Film is in fact a film, a documentary, a document shot on digital camera and iPhone by director Jafar Panahi who was under house arrest, banned from making films for 20 years, and facing 6 years in prison for his politics, and collaborator filmmaker Mojtaba Mirtahmasb.

The film consists primarily of Panahi hanging around his house, talking to his lawyer and walking through a planned but quashed film.  As day grows to night, the outside becomes filled with explosions for a fireworks evening celebration of a traditional Persian festival that the government also doesn’t support.  The film ends in an ambiguous glimpse of the outside and fire jumping chaos of the evening, a mixture of anxiety and freedom.

I’ve never seen any of Panahi or Mirtahmasb’s films.  I don’t know how good of filmmakers they may be.  But it must be said that in the United States or other Western countries where filmmakers often bemoan their inability to produce their films or versions of films that they would make due to economic concerns, getting the funding, fighting the great monsters of industry and commerce, that this Panahi’s situation is so starkly in contrast.  He’s not to write, direct, film or get interviewed.  It’s not about money, but about cultural control.

This is Not a Film is at times boring, fascinating, polemical.  Filmed almost entirely in Panahi’s posh Tehran flat, it is a glimpse of a country that most Americans and probably many people have never seen.  I was reminded in an odd way of A Separation (2011), an Iranian drama that I recently saw, which also took place in a Tehran flat and dealt with issues of laws and family life, the modern Tehran, not so radically different inside the home than outside.

I am struck that the profundity of This is Not a Film is not simply in its production, smuggled from the country on a flash drive, and certainly not in my watching it, though making art in direct opposition to the laws and facing prison, it is its most definitive quality.  There are aspects of questioning the whole process of filmmaking, as when Panahi references a moment on a set of one of his films when his child actress quit the process in mid-shot, protesting for whatever her reason, leaping from the bus.  As he considers how his film on paper that he tries to act out is so incomplete without the naturalism his actors would bring to the process, what would actually be caught on film, as he contemplates ever making a film again, his friend and colleague behind the camera reminds him that there is much value in documenting what is happening to him.  Filmmaking may be creative, collaborative, a luxury of freedom and expression but it is also a very significant tool to inscribe “truth”.

Very thought-provoking.  I hope that he is given his freedoms back.

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