Hengameh Panahi, Groundbreaking French-Iranian Producer, Dies at 67

Hengameh Panahi, Groundbreaking French-Iranian Producer, Dies at 67

Hengameh Panahi, the French-Iranian producer and sales agent who founded Celluloid Dreams and was a pivotal figure in bringing works from such auteurs as Jacques Audiard, Jafar Panahi (no relation), François Ozon, Marjane Satrapi and Todd Haynes to the world, has died. She was 67.

Viviana Andriani, a press attaché who had worked with Panahi for many years, confirmed Thursday that Panahi died on November 5 after battling a long illness.

Celluloid Dreams, which Panahi launched in 1985, was a groundbreaking sales and production company that helped build the global market for international arthouse films. Over the course of three decades, Paris-based Celluloid helped package and sell more than 800 films, including the first works from François Ozon (See The Sea), Gaspar Noé (I Stand Alone), Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) and Bruno Dumont (The Life of Jesus), among many others.

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Alongside many European talents, Panahi, who was born in Iran but moved to Europe aged 12, was one of the first sales agents to see the global potential in Asian arthouse directors and formed close ties with the likes of Takeshi Kitano, Naomi Kawase and Hirokazu Kore-eda, helping bring their films to a wider audience.

Panahi’s passion for cinema was matched with an innovative approach to financing and production. She helped pioneer new methods of international development and co-financing models and worked to bridge the worlds of the European and U.S. indie markets, working as an executive producer on

Todd Haynes’ experimental Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There and producing Michael Haneke’s English-language remake of Funny Games starring Naomi Watts and Tim Roth. More recently, she served as an executive producer on Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool.

Celluloid Dreams was rocked by the 2008/2009 economic crisis and Panahi was forced to find new ways to finance and distribute the outside the mainstream productions she had championed her entire career. For a short time, she teamed up with Turkish entrepreneur Efe Çakarel to launch the independent VOD platform The Auteurs. The collaboration didn’t last but Çakarel the platform would transform to become the global arthouse streamer and production group Mubi.

While she scaled back in recent years, Panahi continued to rep individual titles from some of her favorite directors and remained a fixture on the international festival circuit. One of her last projects was Jafar Panahi’s No Bears, which won the Grand Prize in Venice last year.