AFI FEST 2011: This Is Not A Film
My Flickchart Ranking: #321
Imagine that you have this one thing that you love to do more than anything in the world. Now imagine that you have been banned from doing that one thing for the remainder of your life. How would you deal with that? Would you fight against those who banned you, or would you give up and wallow in misery? Would you take up a new hobby? For Jafar Panahi, the answer is quite simple: fight the system.
This is Not A Film is a documentary about Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, sentenced to house arrest and banned for twenty years from filmmaking. The ban doesn’t seem to have that much of an effect on him considering he’s taken to filming his activity throughout the day. He calls friend and colleague Mojtaba Mirtahmasb over to run the camera while he dictates his newest “script,” citing that “reading” a script doesn’t constitute filmmaking.
At once we’re introduced to the story that Jafar is trying to tell, about a young girl trapped within her own home and unable to leave. The parallels between the girl in the story and Jafar are obvious but effective. There’s a moment in particular where the filmmaker sets up the living room with gaffer’s tape to denote the small room that the young girl in the story will be trapped in. As he finishes taping the floor, one can’t help but wonder if that’s how he sees himself. At one point, he even makes light of the fact that he walked through the walls that he had established.
The biggest strength of this film is it’s simplicity. A lot of documentaries fall into this trap of adding filler to pad out the runtime, or trying to get too political within the confines of the film. Jafar could have spent time trying to get into the injustice of the ban or try to draw attention to the film movement in Iran. Instead he just attempts to tell a story in the only way that he knows how: through film.
Unfortunately both Jafar and Mojtaba have been officially imprisoned and were unable to attend the screening. Jafar’s attempts at appealing his sentence were denied and he has now taken it to a higher court. If you get a chance to see This is Not a Film, I highly recommend it. It’s probably the best documentary of the year and is certainly my favorite.