It was like a veil was being lifted during the Youth Culture in Iran panel at the Filmmaker Lodge on Sunday—a veil that blocks Westerners from understanding what life is actually like for Iran's citizens, a veil Iran's current leadership seems to endorse as it tightens its control over its citizens. Circumstance filmmaker Maryam Keshavarz, who lives in America but has spent many of her summers in Iran, revealed that for a film she made before Circumstance, she had acquired the correct permit to shoot the film and thought everything would run smoothly until a man ripped her permit into five pieces, confiscated her camera, and sent her to jail for a short period. When that kind of random persecution occurs, "people just start to break the rules," Keshavarz said.
Photo by Eric Tsou.
The panelists, who also included Festival filmmakers Saba Riazi (The Wind Is Blowing on My Street), Ali Samadi Ahadi (The Green Wave) and writer and BoomGen Studios co-founder Reza Aslan, debated the influence—and potential use to a filmmaker—that state censorship has on their work. Aslan pointed out that in a society where "identity is dictated from above, then the slightest fighting back is not just a profound protest but can get you in trouble." How Iranians wear their clothes, what music they listen to, how they style their hair—any of those decisions can get Iranians—more than two-thirds of whom are under the age of 30—in trouble. But Aslan also pointed out that "sometimes when you have people like us describe Iran, it sounds like we're describing North Korea and we're not—this is one of the most dynamic, vibrant, political and social cultures in the world, not just in the developing world."
"Making films in Iran ... you learn to hide and do things your way," Saba Riazi said. "You risk things, you risk a lot for filmmaking, for art, for expressing yourself." There's a creative energy for a filmmaker when you take that risk. But Keshavarz pointed out that because Westerner's understanding of Iran is so filtered by a sometimes vengeful state censorship apparatus, "we feel we have more responsibility—not only do we have to get it right, but we don't want to put our family in danger," she said. "And it's a huge sense of guilt because we can leave and have passports and my family doesn't. So for me, it was very difficult emotionally to write [Circumstance]."