By Ahmad Rafat
Jafar Panahi’s “No Bears” (Khers Nist) won the Special Jury Prize last weekend at the Venice Film Festival, in a demonstration of solidarity with detained Iranian filmmakers such as himself.
During the closing ceremony in Venice, one of the main actors in Panahi’s film, Mina Kavani, accepted the prize on behalf of Panahi.
On Sept. 9, the day of the Panahi film screening, Venice Festival jury president Julianne Moore and other artists gathered on the red carpet, holding posters and demonstrating their support for detained Iranian filmmakers Panahi, Mohammad Rasoulof, and Mostafa Alahmad, and condemning pressure on Iranian directors.
Iranian authorities arrested Panahi on July 11 while he was visiting the Tehran prosecutor’s office to follow up on the cases of two fellow filmmakers, Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Alahmad, who were arrested on security-related charges earlier that month.
According to the Iranian authorities, Panahi is to serve a six-year prison sentence that he was handed originally in 2011.
This year marked the first time that a director whose work was showcased in the Venice Film Festival’s main competition was in prison — and the first time that an imprisoned director won a top Venice prize.
Mr. Panahi’s “The Circle” received the Golden Lion — the top award — at the 57th International Venice Film Festival in 2000, making him the only Iranian director ever to win the Venice Festival’s top prize.
Vahid Jalilvand’s “Shab, Dakheli, Divar” (“Beyond the Wall”) was also in the main competition — the first time that two Iranian films are competing for the top trophy.
Before the festival started, some claimed that Panahi’s “No Bears” was included in the festival only because he was arrested.
However, in a telephone conversation with Kayhan Life, the Venice Film Festival’s artistic director Alberto Barbera dismissed the claims.
“We received the film in April and immediately selected it for the main competition section,” Mr. Barbera insisted. “The presence of Panahi’s film, which I think is one of this director’s best works, has nothing to do with the current situation, even though we believe this brilliant veteran director and Mohammad Rasoulof should be released immediately.”
The Iranian actress Leila Hatami was in this year’s main competition jury, led by Julianne Moore.
The film, according to the Venice Film Festival program, is about “two parallel love stories. In both, the lovers are troubled by hidden, inevitable obstacles, the force of superstition and the mechanics of power.”
Panahi, who is banned from traveling abroad, remote-directed the “No Bears” segment filmed in Turkey, and was on location for other parts of the film made in Iran. As with his other later films, Panahi himself appears in “No Bears.”
This year’s event marked the third time that Vahid Jalilvand’s films were showcased at the Venice Film Festival. They have been screened twice in the previous Venice Festival’s sidebar Orizzonti (Horizons) section.
Jalilvand’s “No Date, No Signature” had won the Best Director’s Award in the Orizzonti section of the 74th International Venice Film Festival in 2017.
Jalilvand’s drama “Beyond the Wall” tells the story of Ali, a blind man whose attempted suicide is interrupted by the building manager. The manager tells Ali about Leila, an escaped woman hiding in the building. Ali makes it his mission to help her.
Barbera said “Beyond the Wall” was a metaphor for the social climate in Iran.
Iranian actor, Navid Mohammadzadeh, plays the lead role in the film. Mr. Mohammadzadeh received the Orizzonti Award for Best Actor for his role in Jalilvand’s “No Date, No Signature” in 2017.
Iranian authorities threatened to ban Mohammadzadeh from traveling abroad after he kissed his wife on the red-carpet event at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.
Houman Seyyedi’s “Jang-e Jahani Sevom” (“World War III”) was included in this year’s parallel Orizzonti section. The film tells the story of a film crew member who is unexpectedly chosen to play the role of Adolf Hitler.
And Iranian director Arian Vazirdaftari’s first feature film, “Bi Roya” (“Without Her”), was included in Venice Festival’s Orizzonti Plus section. The film tells the story of Roya, who does not realize her dream of becoming a journalist. Two weeks before emigrating to Denmark, Roya’s husband insists she should meet a girl who suffers from amnesia. The meeting between the two becomes a story about identity.
The Cinema Organization of Iran has not issued release and distribution permits for “World War III” and “Without Her.”
This year’s Venice Festival separately organized a roundtable discussion by the festival managers supporting freedom of expression and condemning censorship.
The Venice International Film Festival turns 90 this year. Originally launched in 1932, it is the oldest international film festival in the world.
The 79th edition of the festival, organized by La Biennale di Venezia and led by Barbera, was held on Venice’s Lido Island through Sep. 10.