Near the end of The Green Wave, a new documentary about the violently repressed Iranian election protests in the summer of 2009, former UN war crimes prosecutor Payam Akhavan makes a prediction that what took place in Iran was "not just a rebellion, but a seismic shift, a democratic tidal wave which will not just irreversibly change the future of Iran but of the entire Middle East."
The film, which opens the Human Rights Watch Film Festival Tuesday, feels particularly timely. Iranian opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi recently wrote on his website that the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt were "undoubtedly" inspired by Iran's 2009 protests, while the Iranian opposition has been reignited by the successful overthrows of those regimes.
A common element is the use of such 21st-century tools as YouTube, blogs, Facebook updates, twitter messages and cellphone images to disseminate information. They also provide the source material for German-Iranian director Ali Samadi Ahadi's film, which recently competed at Sundance. Ahadi uses this material to create a collage of first-person experiences.
At the core of the film are blog entries, read by actors Pegah Ferydoni and Navid Akhavan, which often show a characteristic Iranian poetic richness ("I will rebuild you, my homeland, even if I have to use the clay of my body to do so."). Twitter messages are typed across the screen, accompanied by shaky video of the demonstrations and street violence, including a pixelated version of a video that was seen around the world, of martyr Neda Agha-Soltan, moments after she was shot.
Where no images are available, Ahadi uses animation, with heavily outlined, graphic-novel style images that bring to mind Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman's account of his wartime experiences in Waltz with Bashir, or the graphic-novel look of Persepolis, Vincent Parronnaud and Marjane Satrapi's account of a girl's coming of age in postrevolutionary Iran.
The stories here include that of a politically ambivalent young man who was swept up in the protests and ended up in jail, where more than 200 prisoners were beaten in the dark. Another tells the story of a young woman who worked for the opposition party. When she left her jail cell, surrounded by people looking for news of family, she felt she was "leaving a small prisononly to enter a much larger one - a prisoncalledIran."
Live-action interviews include young bloggers Mehdi Mohseni, journalist Mitra Khalatbari and lawyer-journalist, Shadi Sadr, all have since fled their homeland. Expert overviews are offered from Nobel Prize-winning human rights activist Shirin Ebadi, law professor Payam Akhavan, and Shiite cleric Mohsen Kadivar. They also slam Western countries that either focus exclusively on nuclear arms or continue to do business with Iran while turning a blind eye to human rights abuses.
The Green Wave throws us into the centre of the maelstrom without attempting to explain how social media created the new bonds that gave people the courage to face truncheons, tear gas and bullets, but journalist Mitra Khalatbari's account of the early euphoria of Iran's youthful opposition movement is enlightening "People had begun to talk to each other once again."
- Directed by Ali Samadi Ahadi
The Human Rights Watch Film Festival runs from Feb. 22-March 4 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. For more information see /humanrightsfilmfestival.ca or call 416-322-8448 for tickets.