Italian investigative journalist Emilio Casalini has made a documentary film, Iran About, focusing on Iranians and their lack of freedom. Featuring nine interviews in silhouette, the film points to aspects of everyday life that are taken for granted in many parts of the world.
An accident in the making, the footage was filmed during the 2009 post-election uprising when Casalini got on a plane to Tehran, without a visa. Posing as a tourist he managed to gain entry to the country just as other foreign journalists were being barred and forced to leave. “I carried a very simple camera that you can buy for USD$20 or USD$30… none of the new HD technology” Casalini explains. He did travel as a tourist within the country, but crucially arrived in the hub of the street protests.
From that first day there was a demonstration and it was very intense. I was careful not to show any of the protestors’ faces to protect them, but in the film you can see my head and the injury I sustained at the hands of the Basij. We were all walking peacefully when they began hitting us with batons. A group of elderly women protected me, creating a shield around me. I met people because I was bleeding and they wanted to help me. As we were walking down Vali Asr I stopped to change my top and pulled a green shirt from my bag. The guys quickly took me to a shop and I bought a black T shirt. I didn’t realize the importance placed on it and the trouble it would lead to.
Though he focused on the demonstrations for Italian television news, these friendships built on the street meant Casalini was invited into people’s homes. There he had a chance to talk to Iranians about the issues affecting their daily lives.
On his return to Rome, Casalini discovered that he had lost the news footage of the demonstrations. “I had everything on my computer but when I got back to Italy I had lost all of it, I had nothing for the news. It was a failed job.”
A year later, when the Iranian film About Elly was opening in Italy Casalini was inspired to revisit the remaining footage. “About Elly’s producer contacted me to see if I could show some footage to present as an introduction at the screening.” Within the remaining video were the interviews, stark in their simplicity and poignancy. “The sentences, and what people were saying were absolutely normal, about every day things and that’s what made it so interesting to me.
As a journalist I’ve covered civil wars and been in very tense situations. The difference in Iran is that you really feel a huge disparity. During the demonstrations there were people protesting, there was the anti-riot police, the Basij. In the midst of all this a traffic policeman was operating a traffic light. He was surrounded by blood, gunshots, teargas, everything, yet he was focusing on the inter-changing traffic signal, the orange to red. This represented the system. You could see that he didn’t belong to the protests or the violence. So there was a third group, here was someone who belonged to the system but didn’t contribute to the oppression. With Iran people always think in black and white, good or bad, there is no third element. I want to know how big this third group is that also want change.
I found the music from the film No One Knows About Persian Cats. The first track in the film is by the same singer. I searched online for the soundtrack and other music by her and got in touch with her to ask her permission to use it. The funny thing was that I didn’t know the meaning but chose the segments by feeling. I contacted my friends in Iran to check the lyrics in case they were ridiculous with the footage, or worse still offensive. They couldn’t believe how well it fit. The music gives you such a strong feeling you just follow it.