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February 19, 2011 by · 7 Comments 

The Berlin Film Festival — the Berlinale — whose jury was reduced by one member when the Iranian government imprisoned director Jafar Panahi, who was to have served on it, awarded the Golden Bear, its top prize, on Saturday to Nader and Simin: A Separation, a film by another Iranian director, Asghar Farhadi. The entire cast of the film received the best actor and best actress awards. The awards — indeed the festival itself — focused international attention on the plight of Panahi, who was convicted of engaging in “propaganda against the state” for supporting the opposition green movement in his country. At the opening of the festival, jury president Isabella Rossellini said that leaving Panahi’s seat open represented an attempt by the organizers “to take a very strong position for freedom of speech and freedom of artists.” Farhadi’s film, which received overwhelming critical praise, appeared to place Iran’s turmoil in the microcosm of an Iranian family pulled in one direction by modern secular aspirations and in another by religious conservatism. At a news conference following the announcement of this year’s winners, director Farhadi cautiously fielded questions about the political meaning of his film, insisting that he intended it to encourage people to “start thinking about certain issues,” but he went no further. Asked whether he was concerned that his victory would place him under more stringent oversight by Iranian authorities, he replied, “Whenever I want to make a film, it is difficult. I constantly face difficulties.” But his reluctance to discuss those difficulties was apparently too much for a freelance Iranian journalist living in Cologne, who chided Farhadi in Farsi for failing to take advantage of his position “in the limelight of the international press” to discuss the plight of his fellow Iranian filmmakers — Panahi in particular. Farhadi said he was faced with two alternatives: “Say what you want me to say and the result is that I get into trouble and can’t make films anymore. The other possibility is that I say exactly what I can say but continue to make my films. I prefer to make my films and try to express my feelings in my films. I’m not a hero. I’m a filmmaker. “ If he had spoken out about Panahi’s imprisonment, he remarked dolefully, “what would that have changed?”

Other festival prizes (Silver Bear) included:

The Jury Grand Prize (runner up): The Turin Horse, Hungary, Béla Tarr

Best Director: Ulrich Köhler, Germany, Sleeping Sickness

Screenwriting: Joshua Marston and Andamion Murataj, United States, The Forgiveness Of Blood