Berlin fest hopes convicted Iran director can attend

1st February 2011, Comments 0 comments

The head of this month's Berlin film festival said Tuesday he hoped Iranian director Jafar Panahi would still be able to join the event's jury despite a jail sentence for his political activities.

Dieter Kosslick said he had been in contact with Panahi, 50, since the festival extended its invitation in December and was encouraged by recent critical remarks made by the Iranian government about his court sentence.

"I still have a little glimmer of hope that he will be able to leave the country" and attend the festival, Kosslick told reporters as he presented the programme for the 61st Berlinale, running February 10 to 20.

"I say here to the embassy and the Iranian government that we still hope they will allow Jafar Panahi to travel to Berlin."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chief of staff said last month that the government opposed the sentence on Panahi of six years in jail and a 20-year film-making ban, saying it had been a decision by the judiciary.

Panahi, widely known for award-winning films such as "The Circle", "Crimson Gold" and "Offside", was convicted of "propaganda against the system" for making a film about unrest after the disputed re-election of Ahmadinejad in June 2009.

The decision has caused waves of protest across the film world.

Filmmakers, writers and artists have complained of increased censorship under Ahmadinejad's presidency.

Panahi's lawyer Farideh Gheirat told AFP the director was still out on bail but barred from travelling abroad, making or writing films or giving interviews to foreign media.

"We have appealed and we are waiting to hear when and where his appeal will be heard," he said.

Panahi won a Silver Bear prize at the Berlinale in 2006 for his comedy "Offside" about girls who disguise themselves as boys so they can attend a football match.

The festival will screen that film in his honour on February 11, the first day of the competition as well as Islamic Revolution's Victory Day in Iran.

The Berlinale is also holding a place open in the jury, chaired by Italian-American actress Isabella Rossellini, for Panahi "to show its support for his struggle for freedom".

And it will feature another four of his pictures in other sections.

© 2011 AFP

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