The latest movie of acclaimed Iranian director Jafar Panahi premiered in Venice on Friday while the filmmaker is imprisoned by the Islamic Republic.

An empty chair stood in for Panahi during the screening of "No Bears," a movie about two parallel love stories in which the partners are thwarted by the forces of superstition and mechanics of power.

Panahi, who has made several award-winning movies, including "The Circle", "The White Balloon" and "Taxi", sent a letter from his prison cell which festival director Alberto Barbara read out this week in a panel on filmmakers in peril. "The work we create is not commissioned (so) some of our governments see us as criminals. Some (directors) were banned from making films, others were forced into exile or reduced to isolation. And yet, the hope of creating again is a reason for existence,” read the letter.

In July, Iran’s judiciary said the award-winning film director has been sent to Evin prison to serve his six-year sentence, after he was arrested as he was protesting the detention of two other filmmakers Mostafa Alehahmad and Mohammad Rasoulof at the prosecutor’s office of the Evin prison. Panahi is sentenced to six years in prison – five years for “conspiracy and collusion against national security” and one year for “propaganda against the system.”

The two had been detained on July 8 as part of the Islamic Republic's crackdown on the signatories of a statement titled “Lay down the gun,” which called on military and security forces who “have become tools for cracking down on the people,” not to suppress protesters during popular demonstrations in May. Since then, Iran’s security apparatus is increasing pressure on the signatories to rescind their signatures.

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