Jafar Panahi, the Iranian director behind great, regime-questioning films such as Crimson Gold and The White Balloon, has been sentenced to six years in prison and banned from making films for the next 20 years, bringing to a tragic end a months-long saga that began when Panahi was first arrested in March. A staunch opponent of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who came under scrutiny for his participation in protesting the dubious election that kept the dictator in office, and who was then charged with making films that incited opposition riots, Panahi’s imprisonment became a worldwide cause among fellow filmmakers, with seemingly every major American director signing a petition in April calling for his release.
After spending 88 days in jail, during which he staged a hunger strike, Panahi was briefly let out on bail, but his freedom was short-lived. His prison term comes with the edict that he not write any scripts, travel to other countries, nor talk with any member of the local or foreign media for 20 years—essentially a living death sentence for one of the repressive nation’s few vocal challengers. The impact of this on Iran’s filmmaking culture, too, seems likely to be devastating.