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TV Series review: 'Bridge to Iran' spotlights Iranian filmmakers

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Bridge to Iran series

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Bridge to Iran brings documentary films by Iranian directors to center stage. This unique and ambitious project started on Link TV, an independent television network that seeks to bring fresh voices and different perspectives to the airwaves. Los Angeles station KCET aired Season 2 of the series from October 29 through November 26, 2013. The series is still available to view online through December.

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CEM Productions producer Parisa Soultani hosts the show, introducing each film, and engaging in detailed and revelatory interviews with the film's directors, some of them who still reside in the country of Iran.

Los Angeles is home to one of the largest contingent of Iranian-Americans, so the series seeks to engage this built-in audience, while offering insight into the different aspects of the culture: the many religions, philosophies, and the multiple languages that embody this people group.

"I think it's the story of many Iranians," Soultani said, "Within the Iranian community there are many opinions and points of view on what led to the revolution and what came out of that revolution.

'These films give not only the Americans, but the Iranian-Americans an opportunity to see those different perspectives and to see the common thread."

The series debuted with Nahid Persson Sarvestani's The Queen and I, the director's exploration of, and subsequent friendship with, Queen Farah, the wife of the Shah of Iran. What starts off as a search for answers ends up as a beautiful discussion and sharing of common culture between Queen Farah and Nahid Sarvestani. The hidden, veiled mysteries that exist in the Iranian culture are explored and put on display as we view Queen Farah, and the director herself, through a different lens.

For the film Iran: A Cinematographic Revolution, director Nader Takmil Homayoun explores the concept of the filmmaker as truth teller, as he documents the development of the Iranian film industry and its close synthesis with the tumultuous history of the country. In the Skype interview with Parisa Soultani, Nader Homayoun expressed this thought: "In a society where there is no freedom of the press and television is under government supervision, a television that is constantly lying and constantly making its own images, only repeating what its leaders want the people to hear, in such conditions, the role of the filmmaker is a social and political one. They should avoid all lies and commit themselves to pure truth."

Siah Bâzi-The Joymakers, covers the struggles of Tehran's Siah Bâzi theater troupe, and the 400 year-old theater that they call home. When the theater is threatened with closure due to cultural shifts, the performers face less-than-colorful futures as regular people, driving trucks and serving tea to survive. Of particular focus is the character known as "The Black". Unlike other cultures, in Iranian culture, the use of blackface for its most popular character is an important elevation and representation of the people. "The character says things that those in the audience want to say, but cannot, and is able to mock authority," said director Maryam Khakipour. Khakipour lovingly chronicles the heart and soul of the troupe, while reflecting a repressed culture that finds joy in a figure that is free to express without impunity.

In We Are Half of Iran's Population Iranian women's rights activists pose questions to the 10 candidates involved in the Iranian elections, while three of the activists discuss their opinions on the candidates and the election process. Rakhshan Bani-Etemad does embody the role of truth teller, as the women are filmed at great risk to their families, and their own safety. When the film was completed, three individuals who had taken part in the film were thrown in prison, showing the harsh result of taking an independent stance within an unjust regime.

Season 2 ends with Where Do I Belong? Director Mahvash Sheikholeslami explores the unusual and seldom-discussed phenomenon of Afghani men, displaced because of war and unrest in their native home of Afghanistan, entering into unions with Iranian women. Tinged with despair and hopelessness, these cultural shifts unearth new problems and challenges for the children of these unions, who have no identity and no country.

The series is aptly named, as it builds a connecting structure to a culture and people that few Americans know about, or even understand. "We are an influential minority group," Soultani explains, "but there are not many programs coming out of mainstream media that reflect the Iranian perspective."

Soultani believes that not just Americans, but Iranian-Americans, and other Iranians can gain fresh insight and understanding through the series. "It's such a diverse culture, and we need to have a platform. KCET and Link TV is giving Bridge to Iran a National platform."

To learn more about the series and to view the documentary fims online, visit the Bridge to Iran website.

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