“In this country, women cannot live like human beings” – Neda Soltan
It is shameful in many ways for modern Iran (or any country) to still be under the boot of Islamic right-wing religious (or any religious) leaders, who deny basic rights to its citizens. The ancient, vibrant culture and rich history that Persia once boasted was a center of enlightenment at one time. HBO’s documentary For Neda illuminates on a country at a pivotal point in its path, ready to shed oppression and ignorance and claim its rightful place as a legitimate superpower and model country for all its people to prevail and thrive. Last year’s murder of Neda Sultan, captured by cell phones and beamed throughout the entire world, ignited a new revolution fuse. It is now up to the people of Iran to act and reclaim their lives and freedom.
This documentary is not easy viewing; it is smeared with grief and visceral footage showing the light of life dimming in a young woman’s face, bleeding out of her eyes, ears, nose as her aorta was severed by a thug’s bullet. Producers interview the family and friends of Neda Agha Soltan, who relive the days up until the June 20th murder of Neda. Her mother tells us Neda never accepted the status quo and bucked wearing the chador in school, unheard of behavior. Later years saw Neda work as a tour guide in Turkey, and read “subversive” books and pursued her passion for singing and Arab dancing in private and behind closed doors. Her brother and sister smile at us from pictures with their sister Neda, which reveal a stunning beauty whose love of life and disgust at the indignities being a woman in a regressive Islamic culture made her take to the streets in protest.
The filmmakers uncover who this 26-year-old woman was, who was brutally murdered during an anti-government protest in Tehran last year. On June 20, 2009, Neda Agha-Soltan was marching in a political protest walk of the rigged election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with her music teacher and some friends, when she was shot a point-blank range in the heart, and died on the streets of Tehran. Her death looked almost staged, as Iranians captured the eerily slow-motion feel of her demise on cell phones, and Neda appeared on news and online across the world. The documentary was shot after a brave Iranian journalist, Saeed Kamali Dehghan, smuggled basic video equipment into Iran after he was unable to find a crew who would risk filming or asking too many questions. The birth of rampant citizen journalism and the inequities of daily life for Iranian woman under the Islamic regime are explored in this documentary.
Written, directed and produced by award-winning filmmaker Antony Thomas and narrated by Emmy winning Iranian-American actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, the film features intimate interviews with those who knew her best – Rash Hejazi, the doctor who was at Neda’s side when she was shot and held her as she died. Her mother Hajar Rostami, sister Hoda and brother Mohammed – as they speak publicly for the first time on camera. Others interviewed include: Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari; Iranian photographer Reza Deghati; human rights lawyer Andreas Moser; computer expert Austin Heap; Victoria Grand, head of communications and policy for YouTube; Iranian human rights activists Roya and Ladan Boroumand; U.S. State Department official Jared Cohen; and professor Ali Ansari, who headed the inquiry by the UK-based think tank Chatham House into the 2009 elections. Especially enlightening is the interview with American computer whiz, 24-year old Austin Heap, who figures out a way to stonewall the Iranian authorities and the restrictions imposed after the election mess. Heap created “haystack” proxy servers hiding encrypted data inside official Iranian government internet traffic.
This film is a deeply emotional, personally devastating recollection for Neda’s family, punished even after her death by disallowing a proper Muslim burial or mourning period. For Neda is also a hopeful film for Iranians the world over, who appreciate her ultimate sacrifice. It can also have an appeal to those who aren’t of Iranian roots, but utilize her as another face of difiant bravery. Neda’s spirit has been transported to millions of men and women ready to take action and reclaim their country from stone-age Barbarians.
For Neda is currently airing on HBO Documentaris (On-Demand)
ROARS: 5 Out of 5
Rated: NR / Run Time 1 Hr. 30 Min.
CAST: Various (As themselves)
DIRECTOR: Anthony Thomas