Tomorrow afternoon I’ll be attending a special benefit screening of Iranian director  Jafar Panahi’s Offside. The benefit, hosted by Sydney Film Festival and Aussie distributor Madman Entertainment, is also intended as a protest against the unjust imprisonment of Panahi and his colleague Mohammad Rasoulof by the Iranian government last December. The two men were sentenced to six years in jail, and also banned from making films or leaving the country for 20 years, for supposedly making propaganda against the government. Melbourne Film Festival and Adelaide Film Festival (which is now taking place, and which I visited last weekend) will join in the protest with their own screenings this weekend. All proceeds will go to the campaign to hire an elite team of commandoes with mutant powers to break Panahi and Rasoulof out of prison. (I only made part of that up.)

More information on each screening here:

Sydney screening

Adelaide screening

Melbourne screening

Completely aside from the protest, I’m psyched about seeing Offside. I’ve recently become fascinated with Iranian cinema – the Iranian new wave is widely regarded as one of the most happening things in film right now, and from what I’ve seen so far I believe the hype. Panahi is one of the key figures in the movement. I’ve only seen one other of his features, Crimson Gold (2003) – and by the way it’s really good – so I can’t comment extensively on his work at this point.

It also happens that Panahi supervised the editing of two of my favorite films of last year: Orion (directed by Zamani Esmati) and Gesher (directed by Vahid Vakilifar). I interviewed both of those young directors while working at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival; Esmati in particular spoke at length about how much Panahi’s mentorship meant to him.

Offside (2006) which won the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, is known as Panahi’s most accessible film. It’s a comic story about young women who disguise themselves as boys to sneak into a soccer stadium (where no females are allowed) to watch their beloved Iranian national team play a World Cup qualifier. Comic, maybe, but it sounds like the plot leaves plenty of opportunity for commentary on the status of women in Iran – in any case, the film was shot on the run.

For me, Iranian cinema + soccer = win/win.

Meanwhile, check out Panahi’s most recent work, the short film The Accordion (2010). It’s good. It’s packed with symbols of the Iranian protest movement, yet it has a light touch and is a great little piece of filmmaking on its own.

(Note: there isn’t a complete version with English subtitles on Youtube. These ones are in French. But those who don’t speak Persian or French should be able to follow along just fine.)

While you’re at it, sign the petition demanding that the government of Iran free Panahi.