|Directed by:||Ramin Farahani||Rating:||TV-G|
|Release Date:||2005||Running Time:||52 mins.|
|Language:||English & Persian (subtitled)||Genre:||Documentary|
|More Info:||Wikipedia; Filmmaker Interview||Category:||World Jewry|
Rampant anti-Semitism is threatening to end the 2,700-year-long history of Jewish residence in Iran. The country’s 1979 revolution pressured most Jews out of the country — but not all of them. Jews of Iran offers an exclusive, first-time look at those who remain: their struggle, their successes, and their hopes for the future.
“They’re very open with their insults,” explains a young Jewish girl of how she is treated by other Iranians, “They say we’re impure — we’re filthy.” Even the children are exposed to prejudice in Iran, a country built on intolerance. But as the film shows, that discrimination hasn’t kept Iranian Jews from creating a rich culture despite obvious obstacles.
Scored with twangy reverberations of Middle Eastern music and offering shots of centuries-old architecture, Jews of Iran travels through the breathtaking cities of Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz in order to interview a broad range of Jewish Iranians —from an old woman in a hospital, to a bright computer science student. Breaking ground as the first documentary to grapple with this subject, it captures both friendships among Muslims and Jews, and the prejudices against the Jewish minority. Filmmaker Ramin Firahani explains that his documentary is meant to “help westerners correct their image” of the Middle East, allowing them to “see the nuances” within the culture.
Quite surprisingly, Jews of Iran demonstrates how, even after the revolution, religious tolerance can trickle down from one generation to the next. A Jewish mother and a Muslim mother who have been good friends since college, have raised sons who are now equally as close. The women laugh about religious prejudice, and the Muslim boy explains his friend’s kosher diet by saying, “It’s his choice, he eats what he wants.” When asked, the boys say that they don’t really talk about religion or how it could divide them. Instead, they listen to the same music, go to the same parties and lazily lounge around each other’s homes.
The film also offers rare examples of how these two cultures of Iran’s Muslims and Jews can overlap and feed off of each other. In Isfahan, Jewish artist Soleiman Sassoon explains how his work is strongly influenced by Iranian art and Islamic architecture. He points to his paintings and explains how he naturally blends Jewish religious motifs, such as the Ten Commandments and David’s prayer, with a traditional Iranian art style.
Sadly, the documentary also shows how deep-rooted and unfounded anti-Semitism in Iran is. When a beautiful Muslim art student is asked if she has any Jewish friends, she couples her bigoted response with a coy giggle. She claims that it’s “because of the atmosphere Israel has created” that she is not fond of the Jews. But when confronted with the point that the Jews in Iran are not Israelis, she simplifies her argument, offering a big smile and saying, “I don’t know…They don’t mix with us, either. Never.”
And while the film maintains a sense of levelheaded optimism, it’s hard not to feel disheartened when Firahani travels to Shiraz, where thirteen Jews have been accused of espionage. It is generally believed that the accusations were concocted because the evidence against them was all circumstantial and built on extorted confessions. Nonetheless, the accused Jews faced death sentences and were eventually given prison terms between 2-9 years. Firahani explores the case and the public’s reaction, making it clear that the Jews who have decided to stay in Iran may be putting their own lives at stake.
Still, the Jews that have stayed in Iran have a fundamental love for their homeland, even when it rejects them, and see it as a core element of their identity. Without abandoning their religion, they define themselves by their nationality and are hopeful about the future. “We are alive, joyful, active and Iranian-lovers,” a Jewish leader exclaims into a microphone. Stirring his Iranian audience, he continues, saying, “We are essentially Iranians first and then Jews.”