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LOS ANGELES — Last year, Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was sentenced to six years in prison for “propaganda against the state.” In addition to the prison sentence, he was banned from making films for twenty years. Panahi has been appealing his sentence and reportedly remains under house arrest. According to a recent report in The Guardian, he is not yet imprisoned, but he cannot make films or speak to media, and he must remain in the country, even while he appeals the sentence. But all this didn’t stop him.
There’s a lot of buzz about Panahi’s latest film, This Is Not a Film, which premiered at Cannes this past year and is now coming to select theaters in the US.
“So far it says: 20 years ban from filmmaking,” he says in the trailer. But, as the trailer suggests, he wasn’t banned from telling his story. It focuses on his daily life while he waited appeal and has already received a number of favorable reviews, including one from the Film Society at Lincoln Center, which placed it at number one in its Top 10 list of “best unreleased films.”
In addition to a story about defiance against censorship and authoritative regime, Panahi’s work is one more sign of the smartphone’s coming of age as a filmmaking device. The movie is shot entirely on iPhones and, like a scene out of a movie, it was reportedly smuggled out of Iran in a cake for a last-minute submission to Cannes.
The iPhone has already been used for award-winning photojournalism but with its improved battery life and screen resolution, it was only a matter of time till a renowned filmmaker would make use of it. But the tragic circumstances of Panahi’s decision to choose the iPhone are impossible to ignore.
“If we could tell a film,” Panahi asks in the trailer. “Then why make a film?