| Michael Roddy and Michelle Martin |
BERLIN (Reuters) – Banned Iranian director Jafar Panahi’s “Taxi”, which shows a cabby driving an odd assortment of people around Tehran but is really a condemnation of censorship, won the Golden Bear for best film on Saturday at the Berlin International Film Festival.
The award, which the director was not in Berlin to accept, was hailed by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in a statement as “an important sign for the freedom of art.”
On an Instagram account said to be Panahi’s, Iranian journalists at a post-awards news conference said he had posted a message in Farsi saying, “This is an important artistic and political acknowledgment of the film that makes me very proud.”
At the news conference, the Golden Bear was placed on its own for cameras, with no one holding it.
The apparently whimsical but ultimately profound look at life and filmmaking in Iran, shot from the interior of a taxi with the director at the wheel, was shown despite Tehran’s ban on Panahi.
“He created a love letter to cinema, his film is filled with love for his art, his community, his country and his audience,” director Darren Aronofsky, head of the prize jury, said in presenting the award.
It was accepted on Panahi’s behalf at the awards ceremony by a girl identified on the Berlin festival’s website as Hana Saeidi, who cried as she stood in front of the glittering audience.
Saeidi appears in the film and, according to the website, is Panahi’s niece. But, because of sensitivities surrounding the film, the people appearing in it are not listed in the credits.
Other films by Panahi have been shown at the festival since 2010, when he was banned from making films for 20 years and sentenced to six years in prison for “propaganda against the system”.
He was later released into house arrest but still banned from leaving the country, shooting films or scriptwriting.
His latest film was smuggled out of Iran by means that have not been specified by festival director Dieter Kosslick.