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Staff & contributors

The Iranian director Jafar Panahi has faced constant persecution from his country's government for over a decade, for his career of sharply political films speaking truth to power. In fact, No Bears—which was shot in secret, in defiance of the government banning him from filmmaking for 20 years—had its initial festival run in 2022 while Panahi was in prison. Evidence of Panahi's drive to keep making his movies, no matter what, are clear in this film's limited resources and occasionally inconsistent video quality. But even those obstacles can't get in the way of his vaulting ambition.

No Bears operates on several different layers that all express Panahi's growing frustration with—but also his commitment to—making art that only ever seems to put himself and other people in harm's way. At its base level, this is a suspenseful small-town thriller, as an exiled Jafar Panahi (playing himself) tries to evade suspicion from the villagers around him. At the same time, Jafar is struggling to direct a film remotely, which creates a strain on his production crew. On top of that, the characters in his film undergo their own drama, seeking asylum out of Turkey. All of this is edited together under a stirring screenplay written with heart, humor, and the hope that the institutions that try to scare us will never keep us in the dark forever.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Jafar Panahi, Naser Hashemi

Director: Jafar Panahi

Everything about This Is Not a Film revolves around state censorship. Documentarian Mojtaba Mirtahmasb records Iranian cinema giant Jafar Panahi’s life under house arrest, maneuvering through the legal loopholes on Panahi’s 20-year ban on filmmaking and screenwriting. Here Panahi describes one of his unmade films that was rejected by the Iranian ministry, creating makeshift sets out of tape and his apartment’s living room, further emphasizing the ridiculousness of the state-imposed limitations on his artistic freedom. The result is a quasi-documentary that functions paradoxically, its un-cinematic quality essential for aesthetics as well as narrative. That this film had to be smuggled from Iran to Cannes on a flash drive hidden inside a birthday cake is a testament to political cinema’s power to be a vessel of pro-democracy sentiments, a fist raised proudly against state censors.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Jafar Panahi

Director: Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb

A road trip movie with an unknown destination, Hit the Road plays with our expectations by avoiding any obvious questions we might have, and making us focus on the real important things. Informed by the censorship and persecution faced by critics of Iran's government—including director Panah Panahi's own filmmaker father, Jafar—the film places more focus on the very act of escape and what that can take from a family. And most importantly, through Panahi's skillful direction of rural Iran's varied, beautiful landscapes, he creates a conflicted relationship between character and setting, with entire emotional crescendos playing out just through a single shot of the environment. It's one of the most underappreciated movies of the year.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Amin Simiar, Hasan Ma'juni, Pantea Panahiha, Rayan Sarlak

Director: Panah Panahi