Category Archives: Published Work

An old link about Jews in Iran

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.”


Long Time Coming & a Story About Brewing Beer

Sorry I’ve been MIA for a couple weeks. Wait that kind of made me feel alright – the simple fact that I have someone to apologize to. The idea that people are reading this blog and I should say sorry for having people wait without any new, inventive reading material, makes me feel rather good. In fact, that will be all for my post – I apologize in advance, but….

Okay all jokes aside, it’s been a busy little bit and now that I have a little time I’ll get into posting a little more. I have the time to do some research (just for some facts and figures so that my posts don’t completely consist of myself blathering about my opinions) for a couple things I’ve been meaning to write about. Until then, here’s another piece that was published in The Concordian on September 29, 2009. I believe it was my last feature published in Concordia University’s best student paper (that’s another opinion). Maybe I’ll write something else before I graduate. Hope you enjoy.

The Business of Beer Brewing   Concordia MBA Graduate Behind Popular Local Beer

When your family name means “brewer of beer” in German, it’s safe to say your destiny has been chosen for you. This was the case with Concordia University MBA graduate Charles Bierbrier, who says his lifelong passion for beer drove him to the point he’s at today – brewing beer and loving every second of it.

Meeting Charles for the first time outside his brewery, situated at the bottom of Montreal’s Guy St., I immediately notice his friendly demeanor.

In his early thirties, and wearing jeans and a t-shirt, he leads me through a maze of hallways and staircases to the back of the building where the smell of brewing beer fills the air, and where, he explains, all the magic happens. It’s hard not to be nice to someone while surrounded by copious amounts of alcohol (unless you’re in a bar fight), but Bierbrier genuinely enjoys what he does for a living and is eager to share it with anyone who’s interested – Bierbrier Brewing Inc. is his baby.

Photo by: Alexei Anikine

He pours me a few testers before giving a tour of the “empire” he built. A reasonably-sized room with enormous metallic vats full of fermenting malts and boiling beer makes up most of the brewery.

“It started off as a hobby when I was about sixteen or seventeen,” said Bierbrier. “I spent my weekends in CEGEP and university brewing beer for my friends.”

He worked for a while as a stockbroker for Merrill Lynch, all the while dreaming of opening his own brewery. “I always thought about it as a retirement plan,” says Bierbrier.

However, he soon realized that if he didn’t start young, he would live to regret it. The brewer says that when he was starting out in 2005, he did everything by himself.

Photo courtesy of

“I brewed beer during the day, made deliveries at night, took care of the books on the weekends and I was just working like a maniac.”

Now, almost four years later, Bierbrier says he still maintains a very hands-on approach when it comes to running his business. It’s important for him to establish connections with his clients, which includes the waitresses and managers at the restaurants carrying his beer, like the trendy Garde Manger in Old Montreal (they only carry Bierbrier beer). Granted, while speaking to him in his office there was a team of people making deliveries for him, several brewers taking care of the beer-making process and a handful of workers bottling beer. Inevitably, as his business grows, Bierbrier is forced to delegate.

Several times during our conversation, he stops to answer his cellphone to take orders for keg parties.

“People refer to me as the keg guy sometimes,” he said about being one of the only private keg suppliers in Montreal. “The big breweries don’t have the time to deal with delivering kegs and picking them up from frat parties.”

His hands-on approach also helped him select the recipe that would ultimately become Bierbrier’s first brew. In order to ensure it would be a winner, the entrepreneur did his own market research. He went to the local dépanneur and bought all the brands of popular beer. Then he gathered a group of his friends together for beer-sampling parties. He discovered the beers people claimed were their favourites often weren’t their favourites at all.

“I had my MBA style spreadsheets going on Excel,” said Bierbrier. “99 per cent of the time [Bierbrier] was coming out on top.”

He realized he had created a very versatile beer when his beer-drinking jock friends as well as his wine connoisseur friends, who usually don’t care for beer, both liked his recipe.

Photo courtesy of

After taking a whiff of my first tester, I quickly notice the beer has a very natural aroma. It doesn’t smell like your typical beer from a big multi-million dollar brewery. It’s scrumptious and smooth, with an aftertaste that doesn’t make you cringe your face like you’re staring directly into the sun.

“It’s pure malted barley,” said Bierbrier of his special recipe. “All natural. No preservatives, no fillers, no junk.”

And that’s what he set out to do from the start; make a high-quality local beer that at the same time was drinkable. “It’s a premium beer,” he said. “It costs a little more, it tastes a little more.”

Bierbrier is also actively involved with charities. He’ll often sponsor local bands and art galleries, as well as give his beer out at events hosted by Montreal record and clothing companies.

“We like to support and encourage the arts,” said Bierbrier about his connection to the local community. “I’m not in the business of handing out free beer to everyone, but we can always work something out,” he adds. “It has to be a win-win situation.”

Celebrating their fourth anniversary this October, Bierbrier says he sees infinite possibilities for the future of Bierbrier Brewing.

AJ Jacobs: living life by the book

This is a piece that I wrote, which was originally published in The Concordian (October 28th 2008). I wrote the piece after a conversation with one of my favorite writers, Esquire’s editor at large, Mr. AJ Jacobs. Hope you enjoy.

AJ Jacobs: living life by the book

It’s hard to believe that a print journalist, who’s known for being socially awkward and who admits to being completely committed to the obsessive compulsive disorder from which he suffers, can be so outgoing in so many different social contexts.

By day A.J. Jacobs is the editor-at-large for a little known magazine called Esquire. Outside the walls of this publication, he is an experimental journalist who completely immerses himself in his work and writes while completing personal experiments.

“I see myself as a human guinea pig,” he said about his favorite type of work. “I love a good life experiment.”

Although he interviews big celebrities by the likes of George Clooney and Rosario Dawson, ultimately Jacobs enjoys his experimental journalism the most.

“My favorite articles to write are the ones about personal quests,” he said.

Jacobs explained how the books he writes sometimes coincide with his job at Esquire, “I wrote [a piece] called ‘My Outsourced Life,’ about how I hired a team of people in Bangalore, India to live my life for me: answer my phone, return my e-mail, argue with my wife for me, etc.”

Photo by: Michael Cogliantry

Photo by: Michael Cogliantry

The interesting thing about Jacobs’ experiments is they breathe new life into the pieces he writes. His article titled “I Think You’re Fat” explored his month-long experimentation with a concept called Radical Honesty. He actually lived it and wrote about it with the feel of a miniature memoir. He told the truth to everyone, all the time. He also said whatever was on his mind, which wasn’t always flattering to the people around him. It’s definitely not an easy thing to do for someone who is often described “socially awkward.”

His books demand a tremendous amount of time and dedication. The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, followed Jacobs through an entire year, as he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover, or as he refers to it, “a-ak to zywiec.” The book is a hilarious and tremendously informative memoir that covers everything from obscure definitions and personal encounters to Jacobs’ dissatisfaction with MENSA’s lax acceptance requirements.

When I spoke to A.J. earlier in the year, he was fresh off the release of his new book The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. For the first nine months of his experiment he followed the Jewish traditional Old Testament and concluded by venturing into the New Testament for the final three months. As a clean-shaven professional who considers himself “Jewish in the same way that the Olive Garden is Italian – not very,” he had quite a year in store for him.

“Esquire is not the most biblical of magazines,” said Jacobs, explaining how his biblical year interfered with his day job. “They assigned me an interview with a beautiful actress, Rosario Dawson. I could barely look at her without being tempted.”

As his beard grew longer and people began to look at him awkwardly on the streets of New York City, the rules of both the Old and New Testaments became a kind of second nature for A.J., although there were certain laws that remain impossible to complete in the modern age. He did, however manage to stone an adulterer, even if it involved permission from an older man, tiny pebbles and terrible regret in the moments following the stoning.

“The Bible also says you can’t touch women during certain times of the month,” mentioned Jacobs about rules that seem impossible to follow. “Even more, you can’t sit on a seat where a woman during her time of month has sat. My wife thought that was offensive and sat on every seat in the apartment, so I had to stand a lot of the year.”

His year of living by the literal word of the Bible inspired him in many ways. “I became much more grateful,” said Jacobs. “I try to focus on the hundred things that go right every day, as opposed to focusing on the three or four that go wrong.”

It also gave him the religious education he never had while growing up. “It did make me more interested in the good parts of religion – as well as more aware of the dangerous parts,” he said. “At the end of the year, my wife and I did decided to send our son to Hebrew school.”

Picture by: Michael Cogliantry

It isn’t easy to constantly tell every little aspect of the truth nor is it a simple task to read the entire Britannica. Though his dedication isn’t always obvious to first-time readers, it’s this dedication that makes his writing absolutely fascinating.

In a way, his devotion to experimental journalism can be measured by the length of his beard at the end of his biblical voyage.

Jacobs recalls cutting his hair and shaving his face the day it was over.

“It was kind of bittersweet,” said Jacobs about cleaning up. “The beard was wildly uncomfortable, but I had also become quite attached to it. It was like a family pet.”

At the moment, besides compiling his new book called Life is an Experiment (consisting of previously published works in the realm of experimental journalism), Jacobs is sticking to his regular stuff at Esquire. He wants to stay away from the experiments for just a little while, because The Year of Living Biblically was a little difficult on his family.

“My wife says I owe her after all I put her through. So she says I have to do the year of giving her foot massages.”