Klaus Eder has asked me to forward this message to Screen-L.
From: Klaus Eder <[log in to unmask]>
To: Gloria Monti <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Sun, 29 Apr 2001 22:04:10 +0200
Subject: Letter by Jafar Panahi
FIPRESCI informs of an open letter written by Jafar Panahi, the
Iranian Director whose film "The Circle"
won the last Venice Festival, addressed to his US colleagues who
awarded him the Freedom of Expression Prize
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
As the winner of the Freedom of Expression Award for my film,
The Circle, I would like to take your kind attention to what
happened to me in your country, an incident that takes place
everyday in US. And let me hope to see your reaction to these
inhuman incidents. I believe, I am entitled to be curious about
the response of the Board who granted me such Award, a response
proportionate to the behavior I and many other people faced and
You have considered my movie as a "wonderful and daring" film
and I wish your Board and the US media would dare to condemn
the savage acts of American Police / Immigration Officers and
may such condemnation would make the people aware of these acts.
Otherwise, what would mean winning such Award for me? And what
honor I would have to keep it? Then, I may return this Award
to you as you may find another figure that is more in proportionate
In the booklet you kindly sent me together with your Award, I
read that a prestigious film personality like Orson Welles has
already received this Award. Should I be happy that this great
man is not among us now to hear how the American police behaves
to the filmmakers or people who enter your country? As a filmmaker
obsessed with social issues, my films deal with social problems
and limits and naturally I cannot be indifferent to racist, violent,
insulting and inhuman acts in any place in the world. However,
I certainly do detach the acts of American police and politicians
from the cultural institutions and figures as well as from the
people of USA - as I was informed, the film critics and audiences
in your country very well received my film. Nevertheless, I will
inform the world media about my unpleasant experience in New
York and I hope, your Board, who strives in freedom of expression,
would react properly in this respect.
On April 15, I left Hong Kong Film Festival to the Montevideo
and Buenos Aires Festivals through United Airlines' flight 820.
This 30-hours trip was via New York JFK airport and I had to
stay there for two hours and change my flight to Montevideo.
Further to my requests, the staff of all the said Festivals had
already checked if a transit visa is required and they assured
me there is no need for such visa and moreover, the airliner
issued me the ticket visa NY. But, I myself did ask the United
Airlines staff for the need for a transit visa at Hong Kong airport
and I heard the same response.
As soon as I arrived at JFK airport, the American police took
me to an office and they asked for finger-printing and photography
because of my nationality. I refused to do it and I showed them
my invitations of the Festivals. They threatened to put me in
the jail if I would not do the finger-printing. I asked for an
interpreter and to call. They refused. Then, they chained me
like the medieval prisoners and put me in a police patrol and
took me to another part of the airport. There were many people,
women and men from different countries. They passed me to new
police men. They chained my feet and locked my chain to the others,
all locked to a very dirty bench. For 10 hours, no questions
and answers, I was forced to sit on that bench, pressed to the
others. I could not move. I was suffering from an old illness,
however, nobody noticed. Again, I requested them to let me call
someone in New York, but they refused. They not only ignored
my request but also the request of a boy from Sri Lanka who wanted
to call his mom. Everybody was moved by the crying of the boy,
people from Mexico, Peru, Eastern Europe, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh
and... I was thinking that any country has its own law but I
could not just understand those inhuman acts.
At last, I saw the next morning. Another police man came to me
and said that they have to take my photograph. I said never.
And I showed them my personal photos. They said no and that they
have to take my photo (in the way the criminals are taken) and
to do the finger-printing. I refused. An hour later, two other
guys came to me and threatened me to do the finger-printing and
photography by computer and again I refused and I asked for a
phone. At last, they accepted and I could call Dr. Jamsheed Akrami,
the Iranian film professor of Columbia University, and I explained
to him the whole story. I requested him to convince them and
as he knows me well, I am not a guy to do what they were looking
Two hours later, a police man came to me and took my personal
photo. They chained me again and took me to a plane, a plane
that was going back to Hong Kong.
In the plane and from my window, I could see New York. I knew
my film, The Circle, was released there for two days and I was
told the film was very well received too. However, the audiences
would understand my film better if they could know that the director
of the film was chained at the same time. They would accept my
beliefs that the circles of human limits do exist in any part
of this world but with different ratios.
I saw the Statue of Liberty in the waters and I unconsciously
smiled. I tried to draw the curtain and there were scars of the
chain on my hand. I could not stand the other travelers gazing
at me and I just wanted to stand up and cry that I'm not a thief!
I'm not a murderer! I'm not a drug dealer! I... I am just an
Iranian, a filmmaker. But how I could tell this, in what language?
In Chinese, Japanese or to the mother tongues of those people
from Mexico, Peru, Russia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh... or
in the language of that young boy from Sri Lanka? Really, in
I had not slept for 16 hours and I had to spend another 15 hours
on my way back to Hong Kong. It was just a torture among all
these watching eyes. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. But
I could not. I could just see the images of those sleepless women
and men who were still chained.
Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique
Schleissheimer Strasse 83
T +49-89-18.23.03, +49-172-850.53.02
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gloria monti, ph.d.
program in film studies
223 humanities instructional building
university of california, irvine
irvine, CA 92697-2435
e-mail: [log in to unmask]
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