This Is Not a Film Reviews
Having entered the experience of This Is Not a Film with no knowledge behind the history of Jafar Panahi, the documentary was clearly not one to ultimately offer me the same experience as the more learned audiences. Ultimately, this ended up being problematic for me because the documentary itself failed to provide me an adequate understanding of its subject matter.
This Is Not a Film is not necessarily a documentary, rather a feature length Vlog. The creators are deserving of immense praise for the sheer ambition they put into the film despite the risk they put upon themselves in the process as well as the fact that it depicts the mundane nature and fear of being an enemy of the state in Iran. It's incredibly realistic and relies on a simple technique to convey this to audiences, and the sheer courage behind the act given the political situation faced by Jafar Panahi cannot be denied. However, the film itself does not capture the exact scope of ambition that went into the actual production process. The film is not a documentary because it lacks sufficient documentation to convey to audiences the full context of the situation. The film is important not because of everything that happens in it but rather everything occurring around what we are seeing, and what we are seeing is just not that interesting as little happens. And for the film to make feature length, it has to stretch out very little material into a total of 76 minutes. Oddly enough they were some of the longest 76 minutes of my life because so little was happening in the film that I felt as if I was staring at a blank screen the entire time.
This Is Not a Film is clearly made in mind for the sake of devotees of Jafar Panahi. Audiences are assumed to already know the full extent of the filmmaker's contemporary position as an enemy of the state as a means of explaining the entire story context. Audiences who join me in being unaware of the situation will not find the feature to be an informative experience, but rather a blank Vlog in which some apparently well-recognized filmmaker talks to us about what his next film would have been. The film only provides audiences with a light glimpse of who he is with the majority of the insight coming from when we see segments of his earlier film The Mirror (1997) as it gives us an understanding of his style as a filmmaker. The film provided enough sparks for me to want to learn more about the director as well as see his earlier works, but I just don't feel it was ultimately informative enough for me to recommend. A film of this caliber is clearly not one for the mainstream crowd, but even those who appreciate a good documentary may not find satisfaction unless they are already well-informed enough. But ultimately, the extent of information audiences have to know goes into the territory of biographical, historical and contemporary political if they are to feel the full extent of This Is Not a Film. And in all honesty, that's just a little too much effort to go through for a feature length Vlog.
Perhaps the least exciting part about the film is the fact that after Jafar Panahi's fears get the best of him, This Is Not a Film changes course. The documentary shifts its focus away from him and onto the boy who collects litter in his apartment block, going through a fairly arbitrary conversation for an extensive period of time. This is obviously a desperate attempt to get the film to feature length when Jafar Panahi has become too scared to keep going with the project, and there is even less insight in these scenes than in the preceding ones. At least the moments with Jafar Panahi depict the body language of a man who is going against his own country by participating in the documentary and who speaks with artistic passion about films he wishes to make. The boy who collects litter from the apartment block is a generic stock character who doesn't really seem to have anything interesting to say or any interesting personal situation to be saying it in. This entire conversations seems relatively pointless, and given that it happens in one long shot that goes on forever without going out into the world that the filmmakers cannot risk exposing themselves to, it just all adds up to being pointless. The documentation of Jafar Panahi is mildly interesting at best, and once he exits the feature there really becomes no more point in watching the film.
Perhaps the best thing about This Is Not a Film is the fact that it has the power to encourage people. All kinds of documentaries are produced every year out of the desire to tell a story which needs to get to audiences, and This Is Not a Film depicts a new method of doing that. The ultimate content of the film does not live up to the ambition of its concept, but its ultimate recognition does prove that there is an audience out there for films that want to spell out the truth in the manner that Jafar Panahi does. Since the film was almost nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, we can hope that more dissident voices will refute their imposed silence and rise in our current participatory culture. Only time will tell, but until the day we have a more entertaining example of the medium being used in this manner it seems that This Is Not a Film will have to be the meandering pinnacle of the style.
This Is Not a Film is a very courageous production, but the story behind why it was produced is ultimately far more satisfying than the film itself which turns out to be an overly slow and uninformative video diary.
this movie needs to be seen by everyone who considers themselves a film maker