heinnews this week went a little off the beaten road in sports and interviewed Mohammad Farokhmanesh, an Iranian filmmaker who came up with the documentary movie “Empire of Evil”. They discussed what moviegoers should think going into the movie; how this film will help understanding among nations; sports in Iran; fencing in 40 degree Celsius weather; improvements in the treatment of women in Iran; and a lack of perspective in the Islamic nation.
heinnews: Before an American or someone from the Western world were to watch this film and knew Iran only from television and the news, what would you tell them before they even go into the movie theater?
Farokhmanesh: What would I say? I would say put aside all your thoughts and stereotypes – regardless if they are about Iran or Islam. Just go to the movie and accept it with an open mind.
heinnews: One of the points of the film is that there are 70 million people in Iran, most of whom who do not fit the term evil as portrayed in politics. Then why did you decide to use the name “Empire of Evil”?
Farokhmanesh: Because the people who live there cannot defend themselves against things which they cannot really influence and because they have become victims of a political game and game within the media. Unfairly they have been given the title Axis of Evil as a population.
heinnews: What was the goal of the movie?
Farokhmanesh: The goal was to show a realistic picture about what it’s like to live in such a country, that the people living there have everyday problems to deal with which exist in almost every country. But they also have additional problems which come about through the current situation. I just wanted to bring closer to people a foreign culture. They are a bit far away geographically and a bit culturally as well, but not from a humanistic standpoint.
heinnews: A couple years have past since you made the film. You have received a lot of feedback and took part in discussions about the film. Looking at the goal you named for the making of the film – how successful have you been with that goal?
Farokhmanesh: Without praising myself, looking at the reactions of the people, who have been very positive in their discussions, then I can see that they understood exactly what I was trying to say in the film.
heinnews: Do you see this film as your part in helping develop understanding among nations?
Farokhmanesh: This is a understanding among nations. This is an informational film, a teaching film. After every showing of the film, teachers came up to me and said this was a very good film to be shown in schools. But I hope it’s done. These types of films are important for making the foreign to be less foreign.
heinnews: Religion, arts and sports were the main three topics addressed in the film. Why was it so important for you to choose those topics?
Farokhmanesh: Because people see Iran as a religious country. That’s the first thing many people say about Iran – Islam and religion. Religion is a part of life in the country but not everything. And the arts and sports are very important as well.
heinnews: The Iranian national basketball team reached the Olympics in 2008 for the first time in over 50 years. And Iran is a powerhouse in Asian football. What was the main point you wanted to bring across in terms of sports in the country?
Farokhmanesh: I am an athlete myself. I am a fencing coach. I have two passions, fencing and film. So I am really able to understand athletes emotionally, what they have to go through and why they even do what they do and how important sports are for the athletes. That was the main point. During my research for the film I came across a fencing school where women fence at 2 p.m. in temperatures up to 40 degrees Centigrade (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in the shade. And I could not imagine how they could do this at 2 p.m., which is usually a time when people rest in Teheran during the summer. And they so motivated to practice at that time. And that interested me – where did they get the motivation to pursue this sport despite all the hurdles.
heinnews: Two scenes in the film show a woman fencer watching her boyfriend water polo player on television and the boyfriend waiting outside a fencing club to hear the results for his girlfriend. Neither sex is allowed to watch the other live in action. That was really a poignant moment.
Farokhmanesh: That was really just a coincidence. I did not think up that story line at all. That is an area which has improved slightly but not really that much. That will take time for the next steps. But making these kinds of films will help bring such topics into the consciousness of outsiders.
heinnews: How has it improved?
Farokhmanesh: I came to Germany 15 years ago and 16 years ago I was also fencing. And I can remember 16 years ago I was called by the women’s fencing federation – just called on the phone – and I wanted to lend them four masks. And the secret police called me afterwards and said if you do that again you will face a lot of trouble. So looking at the fact that Iran is sending women athletes abroad to compete, things are improving. But not as much as I would like.
heinnews: One underlining theme which is recognizable in the film is a certain lack of perspective within the country. How prevalent is this lack of perspective?
Farokhmanesh: The lack of perspective is definitely there for younger people. You really need a good training or university education to find good work there. The lack of perspective is also there because people have a feeling of being closed in – regardless if that’s every day life or information about the outside world. Even if some people see that things can happen there, many still feel that there are so many laws to deal with. And by feeling closed in, you lose the vision. And that leads to the lack of perspective.
heinnews: Looking back from the beginning of making the film to after it was completed and shown, what surprised you the most?
Farokhmanesh: After I finished the film and it was shown in the theater people wanted to talk about the film but also 90 percent of the questions were about other issues not addressed in the film. But the people wanted to know more about it. I felt like a politician or an economics expert. I had to answer economic questions. I was surprised how big the interest was for country that people didn’t know much about. And in the end, I was surprised that I didn’t just make a film but a lot more than just a film. I was asked to take part in political discussions and show the film at universities. And all that surprised me.