Thursday, October 13, 2011

Day 14 NYFF: ‘This Is Not a Film,' Really. It’s Not.

Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and Jafar Panahi in "This Is Not a Film." Photos courtesy of 49th New York Film Festival.

THE Iranian government banned director Jafar Panahi from writing and filming. The 20-year-ban, however, did not prohibit him from acting.

Consequently, the director becomes a thespian in the wonderfully subversive “This Is Not a Film,” which was reportedly shot on an iPhone. Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, who is mostly off camera, is his documentarian. It makes its U.S debut today at the 49th New York Film Festival.

Some background, last year JP was sentenced to six years in prison and prohibited from practicing his craft for colluding and propagandizing against the Iranian government. JP is under house arrest while his appeal is being considered. The case of the award-winning director and some of his colleagues has been a cause celebre in film circles, particularly on the international film festival circuit. Just last month, MM was arrested as he was preparing to journey to Toronto to promote “This Is Not a Film.” He and five other filmmakers were charged with colluding against the Iranian government, etc. “This Is Not a Film” arrives in New York, then with quite a back story. Incidentally, it was smuggled into France for its world premiere at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. (See trailer below).

Circumstances dictate that the set and command central of the film are JP’s comfortable Tehran apartment. It opens on the eve of the Iranian New Year. JP is alone because his wife and children are visiting the children’s grandmother. “This Is Not a Film” is a sort of day-in-the-life-of project.

During the morning JP talks to his lawyer or advocate who assures him that his sentence can be reduced but also cautions him that he will do some jail time. “This is a political ruling,” not a legal one, she says.

JP receives the news well enough and continues about his day. He has a few chores to do, including feeding his family’s pet iguana, the source of a fair amount of comic relief. At one point the “actor” recalls a film he made with a child actress who’d become so frustrated that she quit. What he is really expessing is his own feelings of frustration and entrapment. He speaks in a kind of code, especially with MM as they are making an illegal film. A true act of revolt, though, is the scene with the garbage.

Of course, the entire film is an act of rebellion and expression of JP's frustration. It, too, makes its point covertly, so as not to invite further censure from the authorities. But will the film in and of itself bring more trouble on the filmmakers? Events so far suggest that it will, for Big Brother is watching. And listening.

In Noboru Tanaka's "The Hell-Fated Courtesan," the Japanese royal family takes drastic measures to endear itself to a “Death Goddess” (Rie Nakagawa).

“This Is Not a Film is a touching testament to the inventiveness of the human mind and the indomitable nature of the human spirit.

“This Is Not a Film” is in Persian with English subtitles.

Other screenings and events today at NYFF include “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “Retaliation,” “Antonio Banderasat the Apple Store,” “This Is Not a Film,” “Wes Anderson at Apple Store,” “From Morning Till Midnight,” “The Hell-Fated Courtesan,” and “10th Anniversary Screening of The Royal Tenenbaums, Presented by New Wave.”

Visit to learn more about the 49th New York Film Festival: including schedule, repeat screenings, ticket and venue information.

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