This clandestine documentary, shot partially on an iPhone and smuggled into France in a cake for a last-minute submission to Cannes, depicts the day-to-day life of acclaimed director Jafar Panahi. While appealing his sentence - six years in prison and a 20 year ban from filmmaking - Panahi is seen talking to his family and lawyer on the phone, discussing his plight with Mirtahmasb and reflecting on the meaning of the art of filmmaking.
Director Jafar Panahi is one of the most renowned film makers in Iran. But ever since he supported the opposing party during Iran’s 2009 elections and his usual subversive stance on film making, he has been sentenced to six years in prison and given a 20-year ban on making films. For a director, that’s a tragedy. Under house arrest waiting for the decision on his appeal of his sentence, Panahi makes use of his isolation into ‘This Is Not A Film’, an unconventional take on one man’s struggle against his government’s censorship.
To document Panahi and his reverie is documentarian Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, himself sent to prison for three months in 2011 for working with the Persian BBC Network. Together, they become staunch oppositionists of Iran’s choke-hold on cinema, their rebellion stretching to even how ‘This Is Not A Film’ even got screened in Cannes successfully – it was smuggled into France with the film saved in a USB and hidden inside a cake! Now that’s filmic.
‘This Is Not A Film’ is a category in itself. At first glance it looks like a vlog – video blog – that you might as well download and watch over at YouTube. It can be a character study using documentary, even a mockumentary a la TV’s ‘The Office’ but without the jokes. It can also be a master class from director Jafar Panahi himself, giving its audience a glimpse of his process from directing actors, writing the script, and injecting his own style into the medium.
Panahi’s past films have always had social commentary on Iran and it’s usually about girls and women who have been repressed for the lives they want to lead. In fact in ‘This Is Not A Film’, Panahi shares the latest oeuvre that he was supposed to film before his ban: a young woman who has been locked into her room by her religious parents so she won’t be able to go to college. How great would that be it was ever filmed, right?
‘This Is Not A Film’ is a subversive act of film making however lo-tech it may seem.