Screening of the film «No Bears» by the imprisoned Iranian director Jafar Panahi – Q&A with self-exiled actress Mina Kavani – 63th Thessaloniki International Film Festival: Solidarity with Iranian women fighting for freedom and respect for their rights

The screening of the film No Bears by Jafar Pahani, the Iranian director, imprisoned by the Iranian regime, was held on Friday, November 4th, at the packed Olympion theatre. Actress Mina Kavani, self-exiled in Paris, honoured the screening of the film. Elise Jalladeau, the General Director of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, took the floor and expressed her regret that Jafar Panahi, the film director, would not be able to watch the screening in Thessaloniki: «Jafar Panahi, an old friend of the Festival, unfortunately cannot be here with us. But we are honoured to welcome Mina Kavani, the protagonist, who does not have the opportunity to go back to Iran because she lives in exile in Paris.»

Elise Jalladeau welcomed Mina Kavani, who was warmly applauded, and noted that, despite her young age the actress has already had a remarkable career in cinema as well as in theatre. She also mentioned that Mina Kavani’s debut, the film Red Rose, was filmed in Athens. «We welcome Mina somewhere between an Abu Dhabi flight, where she is filming a TV series, and a flight to Nantes, my hometown,» concluded the festival’s General Director.

Mina Kavani took the flour by expressing her enthusiasm for being in Greece, «the country of her heart». «In Athens I feel at home. Besides, I once lived in Exarchia for three months. I am though also in love with your own city” she noted. “I am sorry that Jafar Panahi is not here with us, but his film travels to festivals everywhere and that makes me happy. I am proud of the result and the film we are about to see. I hope the atmosphere in this room reaches him as well.» There was a short intervention by three women, activists, who raised a banner with the message «Woman-Life-Freedom», written in both English and Arabic, as a solidarity message for Iranian women fighting for freedom and respect for their rights.

After the film screening, a Q&A with Mina Kavani followed. Asked on how they managed to work with the director remotely, Mina Kavani replied: «Jafar followed us everywhere via Zoom and WhatsApp. Although he was physically absent, he was always present. As an actor, I believe that the way a director sees the actor is so important. That was the reason why it was initially so hard for me to do distance shootings. I often wondered about the situation we were experiencing, as I cannot go back to Iran, while Jafar is not permitted to leave the country. Jafar taught me something important: always search for different ways to be there, to be present.»

Asked about the education system in Iran and how it maintains prejudices, Mina Kavani replied: «I feel that the film has no intention on commenting on the education system, or on presenting an aspect of local society. I believe the film wishes to focus on how a border can define your life, your beliefs and your identity. Even if you cross this border, you have to carry your identity with you.» Finally, when asked how she felt watching the film, while she cannot go back to Iran, Mina Kavani said: «It was touching not only to watch it, but also to play in this film. My heroine has been trying for ten whole years to return to her country. The monologue scene, where I look at the camera, strongly reminds me of the Edvard Munch painting “The Scream”, for it exudes a tinge of rage. I had a lot of conflicting feelings participating in this film and seeing it in the theatres: a lot of pain, but also a lot of joy. It is a great opportunity to be able to shout out loud what the word refugee means, as well as what suffering can a dictatorship cause to people”.

One of Iranian cinema’s most fervent voices of resistance, multi-awarded director Jafar Panaji stands up to censorship and repression, armed with his films, attaching to cinema a dimension that goes way beyond the sphere of art. Found guilty in 2010 after been accused for “propaganda against the Iranian government”, Panahi was sentenced to a 6-year imprisonment (the ruling is yet to be finalized, following his appeal), and a 20-year prohibition from directing films, writing scripts and giving interviews to local or international media. Moreover, he is not allowed to leave the country, except for cases of medical reasons. Last July, Jafar Panahi was arrested by the authorities and has been in custody ever since, along with directors Mohammad Rasulov and Mostafa Alehmad. The three Iranian filmmakers had protested against the incarceration of women documentary filmmakers, Firouzeh Khosrovani, Mina Keshavarz, Shilan Saadi and Parisa Anvari, as well as of the photojournalist, Reyhaneh Taravati.

No Bears / Khers Nist
Direction: Jafar Panahi
Script: Jafar Panahi
Cinematography: Amin Jafari
Editing: Amir Etminan
Sound: Mohammadreza Delpak, Abdolreza Heydari, Iman Baziyar
Actors: Jafar Panahi, Naser Hashemi, Vahid Mobaseri, Bakhtiar Panjei, Mina Kavani
Producers: Jafar Panahi
Costumes: Leyla Siyahi, Ulker Chetinkaya, Sechil Kapar
Sets: Babak Jajaie Tabrizi
Format: DCP
Color: Color
Production Country: Iran
Production Year: 2022
Duration: 107΄
Awards / Distinctions: Special Jury Prize – Venice IFF 2022
2nd Screening Schedule: TONIA MARKETAKI – 13 November 2022 19:00

In this year’s Venice Biennale, an empty seat was left for Jafar Panahi at the festival press conference. Currently in jail, the Iranian director has spent the past 12 years in and out of house arrest, banned from traveling or making films outside Iran, and faced with numerous obstacles making films at home. That hasn’t stopped him from delivering a film full of his ideas and anxieties. No Bears portrays two parallel love stories. In both, the lovers are troubled by hidden, inevitable obstacles, the force of superstition, and the mechanics of power. A piece of inventive, illuminating autofiction becomes an act of resistance (as any other film of the director), by simply narrating a story of escape: a couple who lives in a village close to the porous Iranian-Azeri borders tries to flee to Paris with stolen passports, a film crew following them, a second young couple trying to escape a forced marriage and a village full of gossips. A self-reflective masterpiece that highlights what is truly at stake when defending one’s creative freedom.

Jafar Panahi is an Iranian film director, screenwriter, and film editor, commonly identified with the Iranian New Wave film movement. After several years of making short films and working as an assistant director for fellow Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, Panahi achieved international recognition with his feature film debut, The White Balloon (1995), premiering at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight. The film won the Caméra d’Or that year. Panahi was quickly recognized as one of the most influential filmmakers in Iran. Although his films were often banned in his own country, he continued to receive international acclaim from film theorists and critics and won numerous awards, including the Golden Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival for The Mirror (1997), the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for The Circle (2000), the Un Certain Regard award for Crimson Gold at Cannes (2003) and the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for Offside (2006).

After several years of conflict with the Iranian government over the content of his films (including several short-term arrests), Panahi was arrested in March 2010 along with his wife, daughter, and 15 friends and later charged with propaganda against the Iranian government. Despite support from filmmakers, film organizations, and human rights organizations from around the world, in December 2010 Panahi was sentenced to a six-year jail sentence and a 20-year ban on directing any movies, writing screenplays, or giving any form of interview with Iranian or foreign media. While awaiting the result of an appeal, he made This Is Not a Film (2011), a documentary feature in the form of a video diary, in spite of the legal ramifications of his arrest. It was smuggled out of Iran in a flash drive hidden inside a cake and shown at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.


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