Groundbreaking documentary exposes century-old Iranian taboo

February 21, 2012

LOS ANGELES, United States — A feature-length film that examines the persecution of Iran's Baha'is opens here this week, ahead of a program of screenings throughout the United States and in other countries.

Iranian Taboo is the work of celebrated Dutch-Iranian filmmaker Reza Allamehzadeh.

"In spite of the fact that I'm banned from entering my homeland, I managed to film deep inside Iran with the help of devoted friends who risked their lives to film the footage that I needed," said Mr. Allamehzadeh, who is not a Baha'i.

"I have made several challenging documentaries during my long career as a filmmaker – but none of them was as difficult to make as Iranian Taboo," he said.

Starting inside Iran, the film follows the journey of a Baha'i woman and her 14-year old daughter who decide to sell all of their belongings and leave the country to take refuge in the West.

It also shows the efforts that the Iranian Baha'i community has made to educate its own young members who are barred from higher education and – for the first time – gives a voice to Baha'i landowners who have suffered prolonged persecution in the village of Ivel in the northern province of Mazandaran.

Mr. Allamehzadeh said he chose to call the film Iranian Taboo because he has found that even those Iranians who believe Baha'is should have their human rights remain silent on the matter.

Dutch-Iranian filmmaker Reza Allamehzadeh, director of "Iranian Taboo." He said, "It is the most personal documentary I have ever made." Slideshow
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Dutch-Iranian filmmaker Reza Allamehzadeh, director of "Iranian Taboo." He said, "It is the most personal documentary I have ever made."

"I should have started making this movie sooner," said Mr. Allamehzadeh. "While I was researching, I realized that all different sectors of society based on their gender, ethnicity, language and religion are under pressure, but Baha'is have the highest degree of deprivation – not even their dead are safe and their cemeteries are being attacked. Therefore, my view is to solely focus on the human rights aspect and I wanted to depict how much the rights of Baha'is are being violated."

"Iranian Taboo is the most personal documentary that I have ever made," he said.

Another breakthrough for the project was securing interviews with Iranian politicians, authors and academics who have rarely spoken publicly about Iran's "Baha'i question." Among them, Abolhassan Banisadr – who served as the first president of Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Also speaking on camera, human rights lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Shirin Ebadi, questions the barring of Baha'is from certain professions. "To make an honest living or to get a work permit, to open up a shoe repair shop or a restaurant, you don't have to be a Muslim," says Mrs. Ebadi. "Where in Islam does it say that a shoemaker has to be Muslim?"

Iranian Taboo opens on Friday 24 February in Los Angeles and will be screened in the coming weeks in the Netherlands; in Montreal and Toronto in Canada; and – in the U.S.A. – in Atlanta, Chicago, Orlando, San Diego, San Fransisco and Washington D.C. Full screening details can be found at the film's website.

Baha'i World News Service coverage of the persecution of the Baha'is in Iran

*A Special Section includes detailed information about Iran's campaign to deny higher education to Baha'is. *

*Another Special Report offers articles about the seven Iranian Baha'i leaders – their lives, their imprisonment, trial and sentencing. *

*The International Reaction page is regularly updated with responses from governments, nongovernmental organizations, and prominent individuals, to actions taken against the Baha'is of Iran. *

*The Media Reports page presents a digest of media coverage from around the world. *