Twitter Plot Summary: Jafar Panahi is an Iranian filmmaker banned from making films. So he made a film anyway. Kind of.
Five Point Summary:
1. A structured opening.
2. Putting tape on the floor.
3. Lizard time.
4. Filming on a phone. Needs must, I guess.
5. Going downstairs in the lift.
Don’t let appearances deceive you – this really is a film despite what the title states. In fact it’s more of a film than the original presentation sets out – on the surface level this is a documentary about a single day in the life of Iranian film director Jafar Panahi as he waits to hear about his appeal over the six year prison sentence and ban from film making imposed on him by the government. It begins, as ever, with Panahi pointing the camera at himself whilst he eats breakfast. After a telephone conversation with his defence team discussing the possibility of a reduced or waived sentence, Panahi invites his friend Motjaba over to be his cameraman, and from here they start reading and enacting the last script that Panahi wrote and planned to make before his arrest.
Looking deeper it transpires that the one day documentary is in fact a well-constructed lie, having been shot for 4 days over 10 in total, and then smuggled out of the country on a USB stick hidden inside a birthday cake.
Despite the less than honest nature of the setup, This Is Not A Film is not to be judged on this fact, as it covers a huge amount of territory in terms of the nature of the creative mind and the desire to tell stories, the crippling effect of what seems to be unnecessary state censorship, and the desires of a person who is banned from expressing himself in any capacity. The opening is very deliberately staged, it being clear to an astute audience that the breakfast sequence and Panahi listening to voicemail messages were not spontaneous moments captured on film. By the time you reach the final third it’s clear that, rather than events unfolding naturally this is a meticulously staged story, but that’s not to say it isn’t engaging or a strong message about political censorship, because it clearly and distinctly succeeds on both of these points.
Panahi is an enjoyable presence in front of the camera, thoroughly engaging and prone to flip between his boundless creative enthusiasm and moments of ennui thanks to the situation he finds himself in. It’s certainly one that most creative types will no doubt empathise with – if you are not permitted to express yourself, how would you survive?
Perhaps most tragic is the fact that Panahi remains under house arrest despite the condemnation of this by the wider international community, and a change of government in Iran since the initial arrest and ban was imposed. Despite the ban he’s still been able to make and release two films in the interim, which just goes to show that imposing an arbitrary ban on a creative mind will only lead them to finding ways around that ban. As history has proved time and time again, censorship will never stop creativity – it’s just a shame that, despite the skills necessary to create something entertaining and with purpose, it often has to be against other forces acting against you. In some respects it’s the nature of the beast, and in This Is Not A Film Panahi has perhaps taken this concept to its most extreme level.