Berlin fest 'not given up' on banned Iran director
The Berlin film festival still hopes Iranian director Jafar Panahi will come to Germany despite a travel ban, jury president Isabella Rossellini said Thursday, as his panel chair stood symbolically empty.
"We are still hoping that he will be able to come. We haven't given up," the Italian-American actress told reporters at the festival's opening news conference.
"He is a very big presence even though he is not here," she added, stressing that the decision to include him on the panel in absentia was a reminder that "freedom of speech is at the base of freedom of art and film-making."
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 President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009.
The decision has caused waves of protest across the film world.
Film-makers, writers and artists have complained of increased censorship under Ahmadinejad's presidency.
The director is out on bail but barred from travelling abroad, making or writing films or giving interviews to foreign media.
"I request the authorities there to recognise that he is a great talent and a great ambassador for his country and his culture," said Aamir Khan, a Bollywood star, jury member and associate of Panahi.
"I really wish he was here. I think all of us are with him."
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.
And it will feature another four of his pictures in other sections.
The 61st Berlin film festival opens later Thursday with "True Grit", an Oscar-nominated remake of the classic western, screening out of competition.
In total, 16 films are vying for the coveted Golden Bear top prize, which Rossellini's jury will award on February 19.
© 2011 AFP