- Associated Press - Friday, May 20, 2011

CANNES, FRANCE (AP) - Normally filmmakers send the Cannes Film Festival their submissions by mail. Internationally acclaimed Iranian director Jafar Panahi smuggled his out of the country and to festival organizers on a USB key hidden in a cake.

The movie, “This Is Not a Film,” is Panahi’s cinematic response to his sentencing last year to a six-year prison term and a 20-year ban on filmmaking. Panahi and fellow Iranian movie director Mohammad Rasoulof, who was handed the same sentence, have appealed and are awaiting the overdue decisions in their cases.

“This Is Not a Film” is a sort of documentary-style look at Panahi’s legal limbo. In it, the director switches places, turning the camera on himself: In fixed shots, recorded in Panahi’s Teheran apartment, he has phone conversations with his lawyer, chats with his wife about prospects for getting the sentence lifted and feeds the family pet, a giant iguana.

In a sly bid to get at least nominally around the terms of his conviction _ which prevents him from making films but not, he reasons, from reading them _ Panahi acts out on-camera a screenplay he shelved after authorities rejected it. Using masking tape, he blocks out areas of the apartment to help viewers to visualize the set he would have shot the film, had authorities given the project the green light.

“This Is Not a Film” _ whose title is a play on the famous Magritte painting of a pipe, “This Is Not a Pipe” _ is nothing short of fascinating, an act of resistance and a meditation on art and its capacity to transform society.

The movie’s co-director and main cameraman, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, said he and Panahi are aware of the risk inherent in making the movie and of sending it to the Cannes Film Festival, where it screened out of competition earlier this week. Mirtahmasb traveled to the French Riviera to attend Thursday’s screening.

“We have decided to take the risk of whatever we are doing, whatever the situation,” Mirtahmasb told journalists through an interpreter at a festival news conference Friday. “We are not combatting the regime politically. … We prefer being free than being heroes in prison.”

Mirtahmasb said there has been no official reaction out of Iran about “This Is Not a Film” or the other Iranian movie that screened at Cannes, Rasoulof’s “Be Omid e Didar,” or “Goodbye.”

Shot semi-clandestinely inside apartment buildings, Rasoulof’s movie has more of a conventional narrative structure than “This Is Not a Pipe.”

“Goodbye” is the story of a young human rights lawyer who sets out to leave Iran after authorities revoke her license to practice and has to resort to an extreme scheme in order to get out.

By including these movies at Cannes, festival organizers not only help spread the word about the plight off filmmakers in Iran but also are boosting their profile inside Iran, where art house movies tend to have very limited circulation.

“The more we talk about them, the more we circulate them here, the more they live in Iran,” Serge Toubiana, the head of the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris, told reporters at the Cannes news conference Friday. Organizers said Panahi was watching the news conference on Skype.

Panahi has won awards at the Chicago and Berlin film festivals, as well as at Cannes, where he won two smaller prizes in 2003 and 1995.