Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2010

'Iran: Voices of the Unheard'

by Chris Barsanti

10 June 2010

Behind the mullahs' pontifications and saber-rattling, an expressive triptych of Iranians aching with dissatisfaction at what their nation has become.

Iran: Voices of the Unheard

Director: Davoud Geramifard

The Teacher, The Dead Khan, and The Wandering Poet. Through these three distinct sections of film, director Davoud Geramifard presents a small but loud chorus of dissent against the oppressive dictates of Tehran. In the first, a scholar of an especially secular jollity harangues his students into questioning their surroundings and assumptions. Anywhere else, his actions would be simply the daily work of an effective teacher, but under the looming gloom of Iran’s theocracy, they carry an extra weight of life-risking rebellion.

Geramifard’s middle segment is its most beautiful and also its quietest. The oblique narration and long, wind-swept silences tell the story of the country’s Ghashghai tribe, an entire nomadic culture swept away by the ruling mullahs after the 1979 revolution against the Shah—their Khan executed and people scattered in a program of extirpation that the narrator (his family tending their small herds of sheep in the desert vastness) likens to the Native American genocide.
In the film’s final segment, a disaffected young urbanite wanders the city streets alone and through illicit, darkened parties filled with drinking, dancing, and Western music, his mind buzzing with an enervating nervousness. “Do you know what it means when dancing is a crime?” He asks in a question that has no answer. His beaten-down despair seems that of every Iranian who’s fed up with the deadening status quo but unsure about what to do about it. “To hell with life, I’m not up to the challenge.”

Filmed over a stretch of three months in 2008, Geramifard’s film delivers a strong message of disaffection that’s mindful of Bahman Ghobadi’s No One Knows About Persian Cats with the artistry of James Longley’s Iraq in Fragments. Like those films it doesn’t pretend to be able to tell the whole story—Iran is too vast, its people too varied—but knows that there are many stories out there not being told. These may be only three voices among many, but they ring loud and clear.

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