Zafar Panahi involved in Iran documentary ‘End, Toward Happy Alley’3 min read
For Indian filmmaker Srimayi Singh, the world premiere of her Iran documentary “And, Towards Happy Alice” at the Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama strand is the culmination of a journey that began in 2015.
Singh earned a master’s degree in film studies at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, India, and went on to pursue a PhD on exile filmmakers in post-revolution Iranian cinema, with the aim of understanding the origins of “impossible hope” in Iranian cinema. The filmmaker was also introduced to the poetry of Iran’s Forogh Farooqzad during the course and became “deeply connected” to his poetry. A desire to read Farrukhzad’s verses in the original Persian led Singh to learn Persian.
In December 2015, Singh traveled to Tehran for the first time and enrolled in advanced Persian-language classes as part of his PhD work and with the idea of making a documentary from his field research and experiences. Funding for the film came from a bracket and Singh financed the rest of the documentary. During his research, during which he traveled to Iran several times until 2019, staying for three months each time, Singh gained unprecedented access to some of the luminaries of Iranian cinema, including Zafar Panahi, Aida Mohammadkhani and Farhad Kheradmand, and human rights activist Nasreen. Sautodeh
Singh belongs to a family of musicians. Her ability to learn and sing Persian songs also endeared Singh to audiences in Iran, as the country prohibits women from singing solos.
“The people I met in Iran didn’t see me as another outsider – but as someone who studied their history and tried to speak their language to connect with them. Also being an Indian helped a lot,” says Singh diversity. “I wasn’t someone who was very different in appearance, language, or history of culture and poetry — or living in a country like India where we had our own struggles to find our voice — really helped the people of Iran connect with me.”
When Singh met Panahi, the filmmaker had already been banned from making films by the Iranian government for 20 years, a ban he has regularly defied.
“When I first met Panahi, I was not prepared to see such a cheerful person. I expected someone who was affected by the constant brutality of the regime. Her mood resembles a patch of cheerful morning sunlight on a dark day. She derived much pleasure from our interactions and went out of her way in her hospitality. He became like a true guide. Through his car window my camera found a lens to view the outside world. He was officially banned from filmmaking since 2009 yet he instinctively found a way to direct the outer reality towards my camera,” said Singh.
Panahi was arrested again in 2022 and released earlier this month in the wake of a crackdown by Iran’s conservative government. Singh, who was deeply affected by the news of his re-arrest, contacted Panahi’s son to get news of the filmmaker. He also contacted Sawtodeh, one of the leading voices of the ongoing women’s rights movement in Iran, who has also been arrested several times.
Being selected in Berlin is a “dream come true” for Singh and his executive producers Hussain Kurimbhoy and Nupur Sinha as it is a festival that consistently supports Iranian cinema. Panahi and his oft-imprisoned compatriot Mohammad Rasoulf both won Golden Bears.
Kurimbhoy, who is also the co-founder of the Programmers of Color Collective initiative, said diversity: “We absolutely need to hear from smart, young documentary filmmakers, especially those who work independently and who make these kinds of stories outside of the Western system.”
Sinha added: “We are determined to be a strong voice in support of the Iranian movement, and if this film can be a look into a world that is being deliberately censored, and an impetus for global support that leads to real change, we will That’s what I really wanted to do with the film.”
Singh, meanwhile, is hopeful that the situation in Iran will improve. “The daily news is terrible but there is so much hope. We cannot live without hope,” Singh said: “Panahi himself said, ‘Hope keeps us alive.’