What’s up? I know it’s been quite a while. I’ve been busy with things, I guess. Now that school’s coming to an end and I’m going to have a freakish amount of time on my hands I’ll write more. I promise, I really do. Until then, here’s a piece that was originally published in The Link on March 20 2007. It’s the first feature article that I wrote and I haven’t looked at it in a while. So it might be a little rough around the edges, but it’s a nice story. Hope you enjoy.
Far From Home – ‘Jews of Iran’ filmmaker Ramin Farahani talks about the country he both loves and hates.
Imagine a teenager on a motorbike driving through the countryside of Iran, seeking happiness during the conclusion of the Iran-Iraq war of the late 1980s. A flyer advertising a film and a photography course ignites his soul, so he sells his bike to buy a camera and falls in love with it.
For Iranian filmmaker Ramin Farahani, the love of photography was a way to “escape the emptiness of those years.”
The first photographs that he took were of bombarded houses in the midst of the Iran-Iraq war, and since then Farahani hasn’t steered clear of documenting the issues that truly matter.
Farahani later studied cinema at Tehran University. He then settled in the Netherlands and studied at the Dutch Television and Film Academy in Amsterdam after leaving Iran during the nineties due to what he referred to as “cultural and political pressure.”
With a reform movement during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami from 1997 to 2005, Farahani returned to Iran to film his groundbreaking documentary Jews of Iran that “illuminates the vast discrimination of Jews in Iran, while simultaneously revealing the rich and passionate culture of a community, their strong relationship to their country, and their hopes for the future.”
He has since moved back to the Netherlands due to what he calls the “return of cultural depression since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government took power.”
As an Iranian in the Netherlands, Farahani lived as a minority and thrived to make documentary films on minorities living in is native Iran. He wished to make films following the lives on Iranian Christians as well as Zoroastrians, who follow the Persian prophet Zoroaster, in Iran. His efforts were flooded with the difficulties of making a film about the Jewish minorities in Iran and concentrated fully on Iran’s Jewish minority.
Since making his documentary about the Jews in Iran, Farahani hasn’t been able to make a new film in Iran. Farahani said that nobody dared to make a film about the Jewish minority in Iran because it’s a very sensitive subject throughout the country. He said that “twenty-eight years of active anti-Israel policies [in Iran] has given the word Jew or Jewish evil implications and every filmmaker should avoid such a project to save their future.”
Ramin Farahani understood the possible consequences about making Jews of Iran and understood that other filmmakers would avoid the subject in order to evade negative attention from the government, but he also prospered with the idea because he understood the importance of making such a film.
Farahani stated that “because there has been no media access into Iran’s Jewish community for the past thirty years, this film opens a window to their daily lives and allows people to see how Jews live [in Iran]; it makes Iranian Jew visible.”
Photo courtesy of Ramin Farahani
Negative government attention was only one aspect that made the documentary so difficult to compose. Ramin said that “Iranians are not always open toward the camera, because it can be dangerous for them if they express themselves critically against the situation [in Iran] or against the regime.”
According to Farahani, “the self-censorship is a problem for many citizens of Iran and is even worse among the minorities, especially the Jews. Leaders also try to protect their communities by banning or controlling any media access. Add the controlling role of the government and one can see how impossible it is to get good coverage of Jews or other minorities in Iran.”
Jews of Iran has been getting a lot of positive feedback especially in the United States where many people didn’t realize that Jewish life even existed in Iran. The film has been getting positive and emotional feedback from Jews, in particularly Iranian Jews, living in the Diaspora.
Ramin Farahani also has a particular opinion about the current Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the resulting “cultural depression.”
“Ahmadinejad is not the truly elected president of Iran because the elections were corrupt and not confirmed by main reformist figures in Iran.” He also credits Ahmadinejad as being the mastermind behind the “psychological attack of denying the Holocaust as an answer to US and Israeli threats.”
Farahani’s distaste for the current Iranian president and his government is apparent in the fact that he opted to leave Iran as Ahmadinejad replaced the reform government’s in 2005. Although he knows the government’s current position, he hopes to one day have the ability to screen Jews of Iran in his native country.
“Screening [the film] depends on Iranian authorities, because you need their approval for public screenings, but nowadays they wouldn’t allow such a film, although my film is not too critical and could even create more understanding within the country.”
Roya Hakakian, author of Journey from the Land of No, is an Iranian Jew who moved from Iran to the United States twenty years ago. Although skeptical at first about a portrayal of Jews in Farahani’s documentary, she truly loved it after she saw it. Hakakian didn’t expect the film to be “so well done and so well investigated” and sincerely felt “the curiosity” of Farahani portrayed through the film. She said that by creating Jews of Iran Farahani has formed “an alternate of Iranian history, compared to what the regime is expressing and what the world is led to believe [about Iran].”
“[Farahani]’s film does justice to the fact that the regime is far more radical than the public, with cases of anti-Semitic statements, and the Iranian public doesn’t embrace it.”
Ramin Farahani has recently worked on a fiction piece for television in the Netherlands and has “no concrete plans for [filming in] Iran yet, because of the ongoing situation.”