Play for Mortal Stakes: Four filmmakers in China and Iran face prison for their work


A thumb-drive smuggled in a cake, a group of middle-aged men wearing matching green scarfs, a custodian and a few brave filmmakers—these are the ingredients that should make up an absurdist screenplay. Instead, they’re the elements of Iranian director Jafar Panahi’s struggle to uncensor himself, promote peace in his country, and release his latest work, This Is Not a Film.

By , MovieMaker Magazine

As American filmmakers, we never have to ask ourselves if we’re willing to sacrifice our artistic integrity for fear of imprisonment, or if the political views that underlie our films are worth our liberty. Here in the United States, it’s downright hard to offend people. In a free society, there are fewer consequences for being outspoken. But since the stakes are lower, if we make films that sit comfortably in relation to those stakes, we make forgettable films.

This does not have to be the case. Robert Frost famously said that the work (poetry, for him) must be “play for mortal stakes.” It’s difficult to see one’s work as both an opportunity for play and as something with life or death ramifications. But achieving that seemingly paradoxical frame of mind is crucial for great art. As Americans, it is easy for us to be flippant and ironical—to treat our work as play. It seems impossible to convince ourselves that it matters, that we’d risk our lives for it. But the Tibetan filmmaker, Dhondup Wangchen, and the Iranian directors Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, and Mohammed Rasoulof, have had no choice but to risk their lives and liberty when making films. Surely what seems impossible for them is thinking of their work as play, finding a way to revel in the artistic process with so much at stake. But that is exactly what they do. As American filmmakers, we could learn a lot from their lives and their work.

Reliable information about what goes on within the borders of Iran and China is difficult to come by. So be advised that we cannot guarantee 100 percent factual accuracy in what follows. This is, of course, exactly what these regimes prefer: The harder it is for us to gather accurate information, the harder it is to raise awareness of the plights of persecuted filmmakers.

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About Winter Film Awards

Winter Film Awards (WFA) is a volunteer-run and operated celebration of the diversity of local and international film-making. Our Mission is to recognize excellence in cinema and to promote learning and artistic expression for people at all stages of their artistic careers with a focus on nurturing emerging filmmakers and helping them gain recognition and contacts to break into this difficult industry. We pride ourselves on our diverse collection of Festival selections, allowing our audience to enjoy films they normally wouldn’t think to seek out. WFA is a minority- and women-owned registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

Posted on August 3, 2013, in Diversity in Film and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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