“This year for the first time in the history of Iranian cinema, two films by Iranian filmmakers are in the main competition at Cannes. This is a sign that Iranian cinema is alive and dynamic,” he wrote in an open letter carried by reformist news agency ILNA.
“But clearly this does not please those who want to see the death of independent cinema in Iran under any pretext and with many threats.”
Panahi was banned from making films and leaving the country after supporting mass protests in 2009 and making a series of films that critiqued the state of modern Iran.
That has not stopped him from working clandestinely in the country and his 2015 film “Taxi” won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival to the consternation of his conservative critics back home.
His new film “Three Faces” is one of 17 films competing for the Palme D’Or at Cannes in May, alongside Iran’s two-time Oscar-winner Asghar Farhadi with “Everybody Knows”.
Festival director Thierry Fremaux last week pleaded with Iran to let Panahi come to Cannes, while the Society of Iranian Film Directors wrote to President Hassan Rouhani requesting permission for him to leave.
“It is certain that… the pressure will continue, but independent cinema will try to preserve its independence with new voices,” said Panahi in his letter.
“But my personal wish, my biggest wish as a filmmaker, is that my films are shown in Iran, even if it’s only one single cinema in the most remote location.”