Jafar PanahiThe plight of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, banned by his own government from directing movies for the next 20 years, is so full of jaw-dropping, Kafkaesque ironies that it would take a director of Pahani's gifts to make a proper movie out of it. (In fact, he has.)

For alleged anti-government activities, Panahi and his colleague, Mohammad Rasoulof, have both been sentenced to six years in prison; Panahi has also been banned from filmmaking for the next two decades. Both are appealing their sentences while living under house arrest. Still, both men have continued to work, and both managed to get films spirited out of Iran and placed at the last minute on the screening schedule at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this month. Rasoulof's movie, about a woman struggling to leave Iran, is called 'Goodbye,' while Panahi's, an account of his house arrest shot secretly in his home, is called 'This Is Not a Film.'

In the latest bizarre twist, the Iranian government has criticized the Cannes organizers, not for showing the arrested Iranian filmmakers' work, but for the festival organizers' banning of Danish director Lars von Trier for his ill-conceived jokey comments expressing sympathy with Hitler. That was an act of "fascist behavior," wrote Iranian Vice Minister of Culture Javad Shamaqdari in a letter. That's pretty rich coming from the government that is suppressing Panahi and Rasoulof's free expression.

Read on for a brief rundown of Panahi's troubled history, the shows of support for him from Hollywood filmmakers and international festivals, and a video excerpt of Panahi's forbidden movie.