Iranian women take center stage at Sundance film festival

This past weekend, Iranian women dominated the Sundance film festival as diaspora filmmakers discussed female-led rallies and the lethal difficulties of censorship and resistance in their native country.

“Joonam,” a documentary about a three-generation family of Iranian women now living in Vermont, and “The Persian Version,” a colorful but candid dramedy which hops between Iran and New York over several decades, received world premieres on Saturday.

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“Shayda,” a drama directed by Noora Niasari about a Persian woman who flees her abusive husband in Australia, debuted earlier at the high-profile independent film festival in Utah.

Their inclusion in Sundance’s lineup comes after four months of large-scale protests in Iran, which were sparked by resentment over the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, after she was arrested for disobeying the Islamic republic’s rigid clothing codes.

According to NGO Iran Human Rights, at least 481 people have died in the crackdown, and 109 more, in addition to the four who have already been executed, are facing execution for their roles in protest-related charges.

“Joonam” filmmaker Sierra Urich stated that the demonstrators “are truly putting themselves on the line… I am in sympathy with them 100%.”

“You can’t speak freely in Iran, they’re imprisoning filmmakers and imprisoning artists,” Urich told AFP.

“I can speak freely outside of Iran — to an extent.”

Iran has arrested a number of celebrities from the country’s film industry in connection with the protest movement. Renowned director Jafar Panahi has been in prison six months following an earlier conviction for “propaganda against the system.”

While US-born Urich cannot visit Iran for security reasons, her film chronicles her efforts to connect with and better understand the country by learning Farsi and interviewing her mother and grandmother.

She learns about the murder of an ancestor, and the story of how her grandmother was married at 14 to a man she met before reaching puberty.

While her grandmother is happy to reflect, her mother worries it is “very dangerous” to delve into the family’s past on camera, at one point warning her daughter that in Iran, “the filmmaker will be the one hanged.”

“Coming into Sundance, the film is on the world stage. I think Iranians are always weighing how truthful they will be, versus what they will say causing consequences for people that are back home,” said Urich.

“It wasn’t until my grandmother shared the story of her grandfather’s martyrdom that I really understood this wall of fear that had been built by this authoritarian regime, to so many people in Iran, outside of Iran.

“My mom was trying to protect me from that reality.”

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Mridha Shihab Mahmud is a writer, content editor and photojournalist. He works as a staff reporter at News Hour. He is also involved in humanitarian works through a trust called Safety Assistance For Emergencies (SAFE). Mridha also works as film director. His passion is photography. He is the chief respondent person in Mymensingh Film & Photography Society. Besides professional attachment, he loves graphics designing, painting, digital art and social networking.
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