Nima Sarvestani: Those Who Said No

It’s playing in Mexico these days, it has been at festivals for a year now, I managed to watch it last night on Swedish television and can only add ”I agree” to the many praising words and awards it has received.

Here is one: At the One World Festival in Prague March this year the film received the Václav Havel Jury Award, the motivation went like this:

“This documentary is first and foremost a message to whoever commits human rights violations: they will be held accountable. Impunity for human rights violations is intolerable for victims, their relatives, and for the society as a whole. Even years after the violations occurred, Iranian victims and their relatives had the power to join forces to reclaim justice – ignoring how much control one might have over State mechanisms or how powerful one might be. The perseverance of those victims and their relatives deserves the highest recognition, because in the spirit of Vaclav Havel they are the proof that one person can make a difference.“

So much for the contentas a film it is impressive how the director Nima Sarvestani and his editor Jesper Osmund have managed to build a film narrative out of the basic material shot at the three day long Iran Tribunal in den Haag, The scoop is of

course to have the main protagonist, Iraj Mesdaghi, who lives in Sweden and who suffers from the consequences of the torture he experienced in Iran, be the one, who drives the story. He prepares to travel to the Tribunal, he goes with the film crew to Japan, where one of the perpetrators attend a (human rights?!) conference, he is the personification of the suffering and traumas of a generation of opponents to Khomeiny and his gang. And you watch him at home with the proceedings of the Tribunal online on the television set. He is in the film the last to speak at the Tribunal. A fine enlarged synopsis (from the Sheffield festival) of the film I found on the site of the film:

“The Ayatolla’s fatwa was brutally clear: “The political prisoners, who stand by their beliefs are considered waging war against God and are Islam’s enemies. They should be executed immediately.” In the 1980s, the new Iranian regime consolidated its power by executing thousands of political prisoners – many in the single summer of 1988. Now, after 25 years of silence, and with the perpetrators still in power, the world is hearing for the first time the details of the atrocity. Whilst the torturers enjoy complete immunity, the Iran Tribunal in The Hague investigates the executions over three moving days, determined to out the truth. Director Nima Sarvestani, whose brother was one of those executed, brings his own documentary footage to the hearing. His film weaves between the courtroom and the survivors and victim’s families who have been working for a quarter century for their voices to be heard.”

Sarvestani has made other films of great importance: ”No Burqas Behind Bars” (2012), ”I Was Worth 50 Sheep” (2011). On the website, link below, you can read about them and you can buy the film(s) at the same place – and via the distributor’s site, Deckert, see below.

Sweden, 2014, 89 mins.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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