When PhD student Sanaz Raji asked me to be on a panel with her and filmmaker Golkou Parhizgar at the Leeds International Festival, I hesitated. We were supposed to discuss Golkou's documentary "Round-Trip" after a screening. Discuss what exactly, I wondered. Christ! Not another film about Iranians and our crisis of identity. How many times are we going to explore this topic? So tired of it already.
That was before I watched "Round-Trip" in my hotel room a couple of hours before it was shown to the public.
The opening line -- "I was born in Evin political prison" -- immediately killed my indifferent, dismissive mood. I was alert. I cared. I was sympathetic. Sympathy quickly gets old though. You need substance to sustain it and gain real respect. In the end, that's what I felt -- great respect for what Golkou pulled off.
"Round-Trip" is a personal journey to find out where you belong. In Iran? Abroad somewhere? Golkou does not find the answer. The people she interviews often express how hard and stifling it is to live and grow in Iran. But their thoughts and solutions are not as predictable as they may seem.
Who would want to live in Iran if they could go elsewhere and pursue dreams in free societies? Millions have. Millions and millions dream about it. But it's not as easy as it sounds.
I want MY people to enjoy the fruits of my labor, NOT my neighbors, says a female singer in Tehran interviewed in "Round-Trip". Yet she can't be herself in her own country; she can't be who she wants to become. She has no choice but to give herself and her talent to a foreign land.
Nobody WANTS to pack up and go. And some never do, even when they can. One musician explained that he wants to stay and do the best he can, despite all the restrictions: They will cancel six of my concerts, but one of them will be approved. That means something, he believes. If you're patient and persistent, you eventually get your way.
Most are not that patient, however. Not everyone can stomach constant, daily humiliation in the hands of petty religious freaks who dominate the country. There comes a point when your home, your family, your friends, your fresh noon barbari, can't keep you tied down. You want to sing, you want to write, you want to paint as you please. But all you can do is dream and get depressed that it will probably never come true. Even things as simple as your dress and appearance can disturb "national security". Are you kidding me? I'm outta here!
And so many leave, reluctantly, with a heavy heart.
"Round-Trip" is a touching piece of work. Well put together. Well worth re-exploring issues of identity.
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