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Jafar Panahi and The Women of Iran

Scene from Jafar Panahi's The Circle (2000).

Scene from Jafar Panahi's The Circle (2000).

NEW YORK, March 11, 2011 — At the screening of The Circle (2000), part of the film series A Tribute to Iranian Filmmaker Jafar Panahi at Asia Society New York, Negar Mottahedeh, Associate Professor of Literature and Women’s Studies of Duke University, gave an introduction to the work in which she described it as "a dark but deeply humanitarian film."

The Circle tells the interlocking stories of several former female prisoners and fugitives from the law who resort to desperate measures not only to evade Iran's repressive legal system but also simply to survive. Each of them has to overcome insurmountable hurdles to perform everyday acts like getting on a bus and checking into a hotel—which are forbidden by law to women unaccompanied by a close male relative. Whether in or out of jail, all of the women are trapped in a circle of fate that denies them access to freedom.

Similarly, Mottahedeh argued, in reference to Panahi's recent sentence (a six-year jail term and a 20-year ban on making films for his alleged association with the anti-government Green Movement), "The Circle, though about the lives of female inmates and former prisoners, is a metaphor for the ever-tightening circle that confines human freedom and creativity everywhere."

Video: Negar Mottahedeh's comments on The Circle (4 min., 56 sec.)

Watch a trailer for The Circle here.

A Tribute to Iranian Filmmaker Jafar Panahi series was part of Creative Voices of Islam in Asia, a three-year initiative made possible by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.