Banned Iranian director in spotlight in Berlin

Thu Feb 10, 2011 11:16am EST
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By Mike Collett-White

BERLIN (Reuters) - Iranian director Jafar Panahi was in the spotlight at the opening of the Berlin film festival on Thursday, with an empty chair at the jury press conference a reminder of the risks sometimes involved in making movies.

Panahi had been invited to sit on the seven-member jury which decides on the prize-winners when the 10-day cinema showcase ends on February 19.

But in December he was sentenced to six years in prison and banned from making films or traveling abroad for 20 years.

"We are still hoping that he will be able to come," said jury president and actress Isabella Rossellini. "We haven't given up. He is a very big presence even if he is not here."

Inviting Panahi, whose "Offside" won a Berlin award in 2006, "was an attempt to take a very strong position for freedom of speech and freedom of artists," she added. "It is important that every voice be heard, every kind of film be made."

Panahi was accused of making a film without permission and inciting opposition protests after the 2009 election that led to months of political turmoil in Iran. Five of Panahi's films, including Offside, will be screened during the event.

The 61st Berlin film festival opens with Oscars darling "True Grit," and over the following 10 days some 400 movies will vie for the attention of the world's media and industry buyers.

The Coen brothers' adaptation of the Charles Portis novel is out in North America and not eligible for prizes, but it ensures some Hollywood glamour on the red carpet at the opening gala.   Continued...