Banned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi's Taxi wins the Golden Bear at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival

A singular triumph of artistic freedom and human determination

Taxi, Directed by Jafar Panahi, winner of the Golden Bear at 65th Berlin International Film Festival, starring Jafar Panahi
A Still from Jafar Panahi's Taxi
I am literally running out of breath as I try to write this blog post. I just received the news that Jafar Panahi's Taxi has won the prestigious Golden Bear at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival. 

It was only last week that my very good friend and filmmaker Praveen Morchhale (the creative mind behind the indie Barefoot to Goa) brought my attention to Jafar Panahi's latest film Taxi. Praveen had just returned from Iran and was sharing the snippets about his Iranian sojourn during which he got the chance to interact with some of the greatest creative minds in Iran including Abbas Kiarostami and Asghar Farhadi. "Jafar Panahi has made yet another film while being under house arrest and the Iranian government is furious," Praveen told me. "It's in Berlin now," he further added. The moment he mentioned about a Panahi film making the cut for Berlin, my first response was: "You got be kidding me!" It was beyond my understanding how he managed to outfox the Iranian government for the third time in over four years. 

Back in February 2013, at the the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival, Panahi's Closed Curtain had been screened which had won Panahi the Silver Bear for Best Script. And now this. 

During our chat, Praveen also told me how Panahi had somehow found a way to get out of his house and secretly shoot the entire film while sitting in a moving car fitted with just three webcams. In the movie, Panahi himself plays the driver who picks up a wide panoply of passengers—men and women, young and old, rich and poor, traditionalists and modernists, video pirates vendors and advocate of human rights—on the streets of Tehran as they candidly confide to Panahi. The passengers are played by non-professional actors, whose identities remain anonymous.

After a long conflict with the authorities over the content of his films (his films are known for their humanistic perspective on life in Iran and often highlight the hardships of the weak), Panahi was arrested in March 2010 and later sentenced to a six-year jail sentence and a 20-year ban from making movies, giving any form of interview, or from leaving the country. But, Panahi is a maverick in every sense of the word. As Professor Hamid Dabashi wrote: "Panahi does not do as he is told—in fact he has made a successful career in not doing as he is told."

Of course, the Iranian government was furious when it learnt about Taxi and tried its best to prevent the movie's screening at Berlin but fortunately all its efforts went in vain. 

Shortly after the film's premiere at Berlin was announced, Panahi released an official statement, promising to continue making films despite the ban: "Nothing can prevent me from making films since when being pushed to the ultimate corners I connect with my inner-self and, in such private spaces, despite all limitations, the necessity to create becomes even more of an urge."

Panahi's grand show at Berlin is not just a victory of a cornered individual but also a singular triumph of artistic freedom and human determination. It's a warning to those who think that they can mute an artist's voice by force. Never underestimate an artist for sooner or later he will figure out a way to make his idea see the light of the day (as proved by the likes of Eisenstein, Buñuel, Tarkovsky, etc). As Praveen summed it up ever so eloquently: "Let an artist do what he wants in freedom... he is less dangerous in freedom than when he is being controlled."

Winners at Berlinale 2015:

Golden Bear for Best Film
Taxi, Jafar Panahi
Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize
Pablo Larrain, El Club
Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize for a feature film that opens new perspectives
Ixcanul, dir: Jayro Bustamante
Silver Bear for Best Director (tie)
Radu Jude, Aferim!
Małgorzata Szumowska, Body
Silver Bear for Best Actress
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Silver Bear for Best Actor
Tom Courtenay, 45 Years
Silver Bear for Best Script
Patricio Guzman, The Pearl Button
Silver Bear for an Outstanding Artistic Contribution in the categories camera, editing, music score, costumes or set design (Tie)
Sturla Brandth Grovlen, Cinematographer: Victoria
Sergey Mikhalchuk and Evgeniy Privin, Cinematographers:Under Electric Clouds
Best First Feature Award for the Best Debut Film
600 Miles, dir: Gabriel Ripstein
Audi Short Film Award
Planet Sigma, dir: Momoko Seto
Silver Bear Jury Prize (Short Film)
Bad At dancing, dir: Joanna arnow
Golden Bear for Best Short Film
Hosanna, dir: Na Young-kil
For the complete list of winners, click here

- Murtaza Ali

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