Story and PhotographyJafarPanahi_9804small
By Stephen Ashton
Poolside at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Los Angeles ~ AFI FEST

Stephen Ashton: OFFSIDE… Tell us about the title.

Jafar Panahi: Since the movie is about ‘football’ or ‘soccer’ we had to pull something from the belly of the game. They have a law in soccer called ‘offside’ – it means that a player has entered an illegal territory of the game. Permission has not been granted to him. Our women in the film also have entered an illegal area.

SA: Because the title has a double meaning, does the situation portrayed in the film stand as a metaphor for Iranian society?

JP: I use the football game as a metaphor to show the discrimination against women on a larger scale. All my movies have that topic at their center. This is what I am trying to change in Iranian society.

SA: If all of your films deal on some inner level with oppression, discrimination and limitation then everyone knows what your films are up to… is it hard to get funding in Iran for them?

JP: I finance all my films myself. I have been fortunate enough that people from different corners of the world want to make movies with me. I want to finance them myself so I can make my movies my way. I never take money from the Iranian government.

SA: Last night you told me that most people in Iran had seen “Offiside” as pirated copies on DVD, but not in the theatres.

JP: The last three of my movies have NEVER been seen on the screen in Iran. “The Circle,” “Crimson Gold” and “Offside” have had a lot of problems in Iran. They have not been given permission by the government to be shown.

SA: Would it be possible for you to sell your own DVD’s in stores in Iran?

JP: No, only if you have government permission to show from the Ministry of Guidance. They tell you what can be in the script and what cannot. And then when its done, you show them the film and they tell you what can be in it and what can’t.

SA: That’s very challenging, isn’t it?

JP: Censorship is like that. Censorship has existed before the (Islamic) Revolution, and it exists after it. You have difficulty at every turn, but you have to concentrate to make the movie that your heart and your mind desires.

SA: It’s amazing that so many wonderful Iranian films are made. They are among my very favorite because they don’t just have one simple story. They have stories on top of other stories built layer by layer.

JP: Yes, Iranian films have various dimensions and it allows the viewer to use his knowledge and intelligence to reach all those layers you are talking about. Some just see the top skin of the film that describes the main story of the movie and the humanity of the film; and those that know more about film will be able to delve deeper into the movie and see something deeper.
Stephen Ashton writes about cinema, culture and cuisine and is the Founder/Director of the Napa Sonoma Wine Country Film Festival.