This Is Not A Film
An Experiment by Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
When the 2009 protests across Tehran failed to overthrow the political dictatorship that has dominated Iran for over 40 years, many were fearful of the consequences that would reverberate for those who fought, especially those in the arts. Despite what many general Americans might think, Iran’s filmmaking has flourished for decades. When taking a class with Richard Pena, he told an anecdotal story that when Abbas Kiarostami would bring scripts to the governmental approval board, they tried to make stylistic suggestions more than changes for content.
But not everyone has felt as open in today’s Iran since the protests. Abbas Kiarostami has left his native country to make films outside the state. Mohsen Makhmalbaf abandoned filmmaking to become a full time revolutionary. Asghar Farhadi may have won countless awards for his masterful film A Separation, but the government has used its Oscar win to stir up furthertensions with Israel. And Jafar Panahi, perhaps the most political filmmaker of the country, was banned from being a filmmaker for 20 years.
Panahi, however, has attempted to protest the ban by asking what filmmaking is. Along with a conspirator, the documentarian Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, he has made a fascinating experiment in what might be called anti-cinema. Or is it actual cinema? That’s the point of This Is Not A Film, a direct allegory of cinema as political statement. Its mere existence might lead to Panahi’s immediate arrest, and while the fallout of the failed protests remains highly central to the work, the whole thing seems more theoretical in nature. What is film, anyways? Especially when it’s being shot with handheld camera and iPhones.