By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
I didn’t reply immediately. I was halfway done with my cigarette, and I put it out in the ashtray, and I looked at him and said, “Listen, I know exactly what I’m saying to you. And I realize where I am and I know where I’m living. So, it’s with full possession of my faculties and freely that I say this to you: Who the hell do you think you are to tell me I shouldn’t live in this country? If you ever said such a thing to me outside this building, I’d punch you so hard you’d never be able to get up again.”
He didn’t expect anything of the kind, and frankly, no one in their right mind would say such a thing to an interrogator in an official building. He was floored, and for about two whole minutes, he didn’t say a thing. Then, when he tried to speak again, I picked up where I’d left off. “Now,” I said, “you want me to leave this country? Let me tell you something. I’m never going to leave this country. If you want, you can expel me. That isn’t up to me. It’s up to you.”
This was a period when people who were called in for interrogations were told to never mention anything that happened there outside of those rooms. I had just been invited by Richard Pena to the New York Film Festival for Crimson Gold. I wrote him a letter that said, “When I come to America, they insist on fingerprinting me because I’m guilty of the crime of being Iranian. In my country, I’m guilty because I fight censorship, and for that I’m taken and interrogated.” Afterwards, I was never summoned, never questioned. They knew I would always stand up and speak up and tell things as they were.
This is what I do. It’s my job. I can’t live anywhere other than in Iran. I wouldn’t be able to tolerate it, because I believe Iran has the potential for prosperity. It could be more prosperous than most places on the planet. Just look at the Iranian community in America; you see how they’ve thrived. All this wealth and all this brainpower could have remained in Iran.
But it’s the conditions that make people want to leave, or they leave because they know greater opportunities exist abroad. We need to create the conditions and opportunities to keep these people in Iran. I can see that we, as Iranians, have all the necessary potential, the necessary intelligence, to make our country thrive. We don’t need America to come and tell us what to do. That was a long answer, but that’s how my travels and seeing the world have affected me.
I begin to ask another question, but Panahi interrupts me.
“Wait, do you even know what an offside is in soccer?” he asks.
“No, not really. I just know it’s a soccer term,” I reply.
“See, I knew it! I should have given you a list of questions to ask me.”
“Come on. I just don’t really watch soccer.”
“You have no idea what you’re missing. Do you even know why movies are 90 minutes long?”
“Don’t tell me, it’s because soccer games are 90 minutes long!”
“Of course!” he laughs.
Panahi then starts to draw a diagram. It turns out there’s an area of the field players on the team that has the ball aren’t allowed to penetrate when attempting to kick the ball into the opposite team’s goal. If they enter this area, they’ve entered banned territory and are penalized.
“Our women here, in the film, they’ve entered a forbidden space before the law has given them permission to do so,” he says. “They don’t have that permission yet, but they’ve gone ahead and entered the territory anyway. They’ve overturned the rules. So, they are at fault.”
“But in the end,” I say, “in your film, they’re not penalized. Not really.”
Panahi looks at me but doesn’t answer.
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