Review: Sara Bavar’s Generation Tehran

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As you might have gleaned from some of the posts in this blog, I’m very concerned with the fate of the Baha’is in Iran, especially the youth. I have had the opportunity recently of talking to some Muslim and Christian youth who have recently left Iran, and it shocked me to learn that things were hard, perhaps even harder, for them. I am now concerned with the fate of all the youth in Iran, whatever their religious background.

And apparently I’m not the only one. During my one week no-blogging stint, I discovered a lovely documentary by Sara Bavar (whom I am trying to get in touch with, hopefully to get a nice interview to post on Sahar’s blog, so if you know her, you know what to do). In an attempt to break stereotypes as well as shed light on the situation of Iranian youth, she has given us “Generation Tehran”, a documentary that breaks the common perception that all Iranian youth are turban (or chador) wearing, terror loving brainwashed Islamo-robots, painting instead a haunting picture of a generation whose voice has been stifled.

Because while youth have the great capacity to move the world, they have to be given the time, the space and the chance to do so and, quite unfortunately (for them or for the rest of society?), youth in many parts of the world don’t have such an opportunity. This is the situation of youth who live in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the situation is a lot different from what you would expect.

As one reviewer challenges, “what if you traveled there and saw young men and women dressed in the latest fashions carrying the latest technology? What if you heard Iranian rap and saw people dancing in the streets? Would you still perceive Iran in the same way? Generation Tehran is a short documentary that will change your mind about Iran, its people and its future. As one of the youngest populations in the world (70% are under 30), Iran’s youth are helping to build a new country. The foundations they lay will not only affect the Middle East, but also extend out to the whole world.”

“Born and raised in the United States, Iranian-American director/producer Sara Bavar wanted to create a platform for Iran’s youth to speak their mind and to let the world know the truth about them – to give them a voice. This film is that single, unified voice, crying out, demanding freedom and dispelling preconceived notions – all of which we in the west sometimes take for granted. Using interviews and observational footage filmed entirely on location in Tehran over the course of three months in Fall/Winter of 2006, the film will surprise, shock and leave the viewer questioning everything they knew, or thought they knew about Iran.”

For a relatively short documentary, there is a lot of food for through. The main one concerns the clash between the common perception of Iranian youth versus the reality, that Iranian youth are as diversified as those in Europe and North America. Another food for thought is that some people who are in fact repressing Iran’s youth are trying to help; they perceive themselves as giving the youth a sense of culture that modernity has taken away.

However, culture has changed with modernity; no longer isolated from the rest of the world through the Internet, Iranian youth know what they are potentially missing out on, and it can only rankle that, although in their twenties, they can’t decide for themselves what culture means to them.

The interesting reality is that while older generations are very uncomfortable with the idea of cultures merging together, youth in their teens, twenties and even thirties don’t see it as much as a threat than an opportunity. I am quite comfortable in asserting that no free thinking youth sees this as a threat, but rather as a challenge.

Today’s reality is unprecedented, making it exciting and scary at the same time. Second-generation immigrant, I see it all the time. People my age are very comfortable with their identity, mixing various aspects of their parents’ culture with that of the country they now call home, and adding various aspects of their friends’ cultures. Isn’t this what globalization should be about, taking the best of everything and creating something much better?

Interestingly, the older generation seems to be stricken by fear at the thought of this mix of culture; but the younger generation is embracing this mixture and loving it; we are creating our own culture, and it’s only going to get better.

Unfortunately, the youth in Iran don’t have the freedom to do so. Their actions are limited… But, like the movie underlined, their thoughts certainly aren’t. The statement “your thoughts are free but your actions are not” strikes a particular chord in North America, geared towards self-fulfilment. The youth in Iran, having the capacity to think deeply (which, ironically enough, is often developed and honed through years of studying the Quran), having nothing else to do, think, think, think and think some more.

This is not only a terrible way for a youth to live, but also is a recipe for disaster. Imagine how depressed you would be if you could dream of owning the world and you’re not allowed to take even the first step towards fulfilling it.

Stuck in this pressure cooker, some Iranian youth might give up, others might seek escape by shooting up and some will die, but others will continue reflecting on this and become an obvious example of a problem afflicting the youth of the world. Then maybe the youth in places like Canada and the States will realise that in some way, we are also stuck – kept blinded by institutions and rules and laws of the past that are hampering the road towards the betterment of humanity.

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