Iranian film director Jafar Panahi has been released from prison

Acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was released from prison in Tehran on Friday.

The news follows a hurricane a few days. Panahi had been in prison since July and was serving a six-year sentence. Earlier this week he declared a hunger strike, saying in a statement: “I will remain in this condition until my lifeless body may be released from prison.”

The Times confirmed the news of Panahi’s release with representatives from Cinetic Media, the New York-based company involved in the release of Panahi’s latest film, No Bears.

In a statement announcing the filmmaker’s release of Panahi’s wife, Tahereh Saeidi, a quote was attributed to one of Panahi’s lawyers, Saleh Nikbakht. “While I am pleased with the release of Mr. Panahi, it must be said that his release should have come three months ago after our appeal against his previous court decision was accepted,” Nikbakht said.

Nikbakht added: “I am surprised by these ‘sledgehammer encounters’ with Mr. Panahi and other artists, writers, intellectuals and journalists and generally protesters against the status quo. Since they even fail to implement the decision of the highest judicial authority.”

Panahi, one of Iran’s most politically open filmmakers, has been under attack from the country’s regime for decades. In 2010, Panahi was arrested and convicted of national security violations stemming from a documentary he made that chronicled the protests following the disputed re-election of then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Panahi and his colleague Mohammad Rasoulof were sentenced to six years in prison and banned from writing screenplays and traveling abroad for 20 years. Panahi was released on $200,000 bail and placed under house arrest.

Panahi was arrested by Iranian authorities last year after inquiring about the arrests of Rasoulof and another filmmaker, Mostafa Al-Ahmad. Panahi’s investigation led to his own arrest, with authorities reinstating the six-year sentence that had been imposed in 2010 but never carried out. Panahi argued that the statute of limitations on his original sentence had expired.

“This arrest resembled banditry and hostage-taking rather than the execution of a court sentence,” Panahi said in the Feb. 1 statement from Tehran’s Evin prison, in which he also declared his hunger strike.

Panahi first attracted international attention with The White Balloon (1995), a tender drama about a young girl trying to buy a goldfish, which won the Caméra d’Or award for best feature film at the Cannes Film Festival. After that film and The Mirror (1997), he turned away from childish stories and gained even more worldwide exposure with films like The Circle (2000) and Offside (2006), both of which are highly critical of the nation recognition treatment of women. (Both films won major awards at international film festivals, and both were banned for release in Iran.) His 2003 feature film, Crimson Gold, was a crime drama that drew attention to class and economic struggles across Iran.

Panahi was hit with a 20-year film ban in 2010, which did little to hamper his productivity or ingenuity in circumventing restrictions. In 2011, he emerged with This Is Not a Film, a personal video diary recorded during his months under house arrest; The film was smuggled from Iran to the Cannes Film Festival on a USB stick hidden in a cake.

After his release from house arrest, he continued to shoot in secret and under difficult conditions, often appearing on screen as a fictionalized version of himself and brooding over his personal circumstances and those of the nation at large. His 2015 film Taxi, in which he plays a roving taxi driver on the streets of Tehran, won the Golden Bear at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival.

His two most recent feature films, 3 Faces (2019) and No Bears (2022), take a critical, hard-hitting look at small-town misogyny and religious traditionalism. Panahi was last arrested in July, a few weeks before No Bears premiered at the Venice International Film Festival and won a Special Jury Prize.

Times film critic Justin Chang declared No Bears the best film of 2022. “Part of the point [Panahi’s] What is special about this film is that its constraints were never purely physical, nor were its means of resistance, he wrote in his review. “Cinema, like the world itself, is filled with invisible boundaries, governed by rules and assumptions that Panahi has long challenged with extraordinary ingenuity and good-natured cunning.”

Film critic Justin Chang and staff writer Josh Rottenberg contributed to this report.

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