Three for Freedom
JAFAR PANAHI is an award-wing Iranian film maker, his special brand of social realism bringing him a whole menagerie of prizes internationally - golden leopard from Locarno, golden lion from Venice, silver bear from Berlin. At the moment the director is not filming, being otherwise detained - the subject of a movie to be, quite possibly.
SHAPPI KHORSANDI has been dubbed" Britain's best young female comic by any yardstick", by the Guardian no less. She is certainly one of the busiest, having made appearances on Radio Four's Quote...Unquote, as well as Live At the Apollo, Have I Got News for You and Question Time. Plus writing an excellent book, and raising a child, but...tomorrow evening Shappi is taking time out to do something for what she believes right, political and artistic freedom, and particularly that of Jafar Panahi.
JOHN McDONNELL has just been returned with a bigger majority as Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, a west London seat that embraces much of Heathrow airport. Besides work in his constituency - including opposing airport expansion and supporting the resumed struggle of British Airways cabin crew - John is parliamentary convenor of the Trade Union Co-ordinating Group, and chairs both Public service, Not Private Profit and the Labour Representation Committee (LRC). The opening up of Labour's leadership contest has brought a call from LRC supporters for their favourite left-wing MP to renew the challenge for leadership which he tried to mount a few years ago.
But first, John McDonnell is due to perform another duty tomorrow night, at the Soho Theatre, in Dean Street, W1. Once again it is for freedom and for Jafar Panahi. It is also supported by the Labour Representation Committee.
Jafar Panahi's first feature film, White Balloon, came out in 1995, and won a Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. His second feature film, The Mirror, received the Golden Leopard Award at the Locarno Film Festival. Then in 2000 came The Circle, which criticized the treatment of women under Iran's Islamist regime. It won him the Golden Lion, the top prize at the Venice Film Festival.
But Jafar Panahi has another distinction. He has experienced arrest by both the United States and Iranian authorities.
On April 15, 2001, the award-winning film maker was in transit from Hong Kong for a flight to Buenos Aires when he was detained by immigration police at John F. Kennedy airport in New York. They wanted to question and photograph him. When he declined to co-operate they took him away in a van and left him chained to a bench for ten hours with others from several nationalities, accused of trying to enter the United States illegally. His requests to 'phone Iranian colleagues and Festival authorities were ignored for some hours. Afterwards, Panahi protested in writing, not only on his own behalf but also for those who had been chained with him. He believed they were treated this way on the basis of race or nationality.
In Iran, Panahi was arrested last year during the upheaval against Ahmadinejad and what people felt were rigged elections. He was released again. Then in February this year his request to travel to the 60th Berlin Film Festival to participate in the panel discussion on "Iranian Cinema: Present and Future. Expectations inside and outside of Iran" was denied. On March 1, he was arrested again. He was taken from his home along with his wife Tahereh Saidi, daughter Solmaz Panahi and 15 of his friends by plainclothes officers and taken to the Evin Prison. Most were released 48 hours later, Mohammad Rasoulof and Mehdi Pourmoussa on March 17, but Panahi remains in ward 209 inside Evin Prison.
Although Panahi was detained without charges, the Iranian authorities said last month that they had detained him because he was working on a film against the government. The family say he was just at home entertaining guests. Friends say Jafar has twice been offered bail, but has refused in solidarity with all those incarcerated for their participation in the mass demonstrations against the regime that have shaken Iran since June 2009. There has been an international outcry against the arrest, notably from others in the film industry, including British director Ken Loach.
Tomorrow night, the UK-based campaign Hands Off the People of Iran(HOPI), which supports the Iranian people in their struggle for social progress and democratic rights, while opposing threats to Iran from the US and its allies, will hold a special solidarity showing of Jafar Panahi's most popular film in the West, Offside , which deals with real events.
Shappi Khorsandi has promised to provide a taste of her distinctive comedy to complement the bittersweet humour of the film, and John McDonnell MP, who is a HOPI member will give a political introduction.
HOPI says it is screening the film as a way of raising the profile of Panahi, and the political issues behind his arrest, so as to step up the pressure on the regime in Tehran to free all political prisoners. "We believe that international solidarity of this sort – not the threat of military strikes or sanctions – is the way to deliver effective aid to the struggle of ordinary people in Iran for freedom and social change."
Wednesday, May 12, 6pm. Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London W1
Tickets: £10 (£20 solidarity, £5 unwaged). All profits go to the charity ‘Workers Fund Iran’.
More info. and payment details: http://hopoi.org/?p=1195
Screenings of 'Offside' in Glasgow and Manchester
Thursday May 18, 6.30pm
Club Academy, University of Manchester Students’ Union
Friday May 21, 7pm
Centre for Contemporary Arts
350 Sauchiehall Street