Friday Review

Let me tell you my story

Making this film was therapeutic  say the filmmakers; stills from the films  

“We Iranian documentary directors have movies that can only be made in our minds. Sometimes, we tell them to each other. This is one of these movies I’m going to tell you now.”

This is an excerpt from Profession: Documentarist, a collection of seven short documentary films made by seven women filmmakers from Iran post the Presidential elections in 2009. Farahnaz Sharifi, one among them, utters these words in the opening segment of her film. In reality though, she seems to be speaking for all seven of them, for each film in the compilation is about the impossibility of being a documentary filmmaker, specifically a woman filmmaker in Iran amidst violence, severe censorship and governmental control over filmmaking and the arts.

The film was screened as part of Vikalp Bengaluru’s monthly Doc@Everest series, recently.

What is fascinating about Profession: Documentarist is that while it is about the difficulty of being a filmmaker in Iran, it interprets this difficulty in seven different ways. For instance, Shirin Barghnavard talks about how tough it is to record a war, one that will not consult her before arriving but will gain meaning through her. Mina Keshavarz talks about the dilemma between leaving and staying in Iran, especially post-2009. And then, there is a film like Sepideh Abtahi’s which delves into the sphere of the surreal for it is painful to articulate the real.

The filmmakers also express their struggle cinematically by experimenting with the form itself. For instance, Sahar Salahshoor’s film about her being forced to leave her house is filmed entirely within the confines of the house. The camera follows her around as she packs her life in boxes. There is a window in the hall overlooking the main road but we are not allowed to look out of it. And then there is an incredibly creative film like Farahnaz Sharifi’s wherein she recreates a complete documentary in front of us — one that she would have made if it was not forbidden to talk about Googoosh, her favourite singer, who was banned from singing during the Revolution. What these films share in common with each other is the fact that they are all rooted simultaneously in both deeply personal and national experiences. In Firouzeh Khosrovani’s account, for example, we hear her recount how she was detained at the airport and asked not to make films that will hamper the reputation of Iran. This, because she had made a film called Rough Cut, in which she spoke of how funny it was that women’s clothing stores in mid-town Tehran had mannequins with their heads cut in half and breasts sliced off. And in Nahid Rezaei’s film we witness an endearing personal journey of a filmmaker who is trying to cope with the realities of censorship. It is a film that is not about leaving but about finding space in status quo.

Profession: Documentarist is, therefore, not just a brave and political film for it is made without any government authorization, but one that utilizes the potential of the documentary just so beautifully.

Over a video-chat conversation from Tehran, Shirin and Sahar spoke about how making this film was indeed therapeutic for all of them. Excerpts:

What prompted you to make such a film and collaborate with each other?

Shirin: After the 2009 elections, we found the atmosphere very limiting. It was hard to work with Governmental organisations. They wouldn’t allow us to make the films we wanted to make. So we decided to do something as a group. We are all friends and used to meet regularly anyway. We thought it is better to act as a group rather than one person.

Is the situation worse for women filmmakers in particular?

Sahar: Yes, there is a difference in how they treat male filmmakers. The decision makers are all men and it is they who decide who should get the money to make films. There is very little space for women’s issues because the dominant vision of the society as well as the government here is patriarchal.

It is also true that the number of women in universities is higher than the men. But there are no jobs for women. The opportunities for men are better. And it is worse for women who live in isolated areas.

The documentary as a form is also restricted, I assume, especially in relation to fiction film...

Shirin: There are no places to show documentaries of this kind. There are a few art galleries, private organisations and that is where we ended up showing our film.

We love the documentary as a form, even though it is not as lucrative as the fiction film.

Can you describe the process of making this film?

Shirin: We discussed every single aspect of this film. We hadn’t finalised anything when we came to the table for discussion. But gradually, ideas evolved and we’d give feedback to each other as well. Making this film was therapeutic for us. We felt free to speak our mind and make the film we’ve wanted to make.

All of you had a choice to leave.. but decided to stay..

Shirin: If we want to change something, we have to do something about it. Each of us decided that we must do what we can, given the circumstances. Yes, there are and will always be lots of challenges but the shrinking space for freedom of expression is not a lone characteristic of Iran. Lots of countries across the world suffer from it. They are all restrictive in their own ways.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 8:50:00 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/let-me-tell-you-my-story/article7711816.ece

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