Documentaries can be many things…. they can be informative, inspirational, and moving; they can also be funny or sad or enraging. The good ones (and especially the great ones) are often all of the above and No Land’s Song, a tiny film about big ideas, is definitely a cut above the rest. Recently crowned with the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Montreal World Film Festival, the Iranian film showcases Sara Najafi, (pictured above) a woman who is passionate about music and won’t take no for an answer. Her quest sounds quite simple to those of us stateside: she wants to hold a concert in her homeland featuring the musical genius of several women from other countries around the world (France, namely). These angelic voices absolutely need to be heard! The only problem is that Iran, ever since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, does not allow women to be featured in public as soloists, at least when men are present. Hey, you want to perform for a group of women? Go nuts! But allow men to hear this amazing gift that was bestowed upon you? Nope. Sorry. We can’t have that here.
Accompanied by her brother, Ayat (the film’s director) and husband, Ali Kazemian (a male accompanist with a solid voice of his own), Ms. Najafi begins an arduous journey of bringing her dream to the stage. Armed with the willing spirit (and tremendous pipes) of French musicians and singers Elise Caron, Jeanne Cherhal and Emel Mathlouthi, Najafi (who holds a Bachelors degree in piano and a Masters degree in music composition) does everything in her power to bring her passion to the masses. Along the way, the audience is treated to brief history lessons about the country, befallen by radical conservatives, and retrospectives on what things used to be like before the fundamentalists took over their home.
In full disclosure, I am not the biggest fan of foreign films, mostly because of the subtitle effect. I find it difficult to both read the words being spoken and properly enjoy the visuals the director puts on screen. So as I entered the Noor Iranian Film Festival that this was playing at, I went in with mid-level expectations and was hoping for the best, but I truly had no real idea what I was getting into. And then something happened when the lights went down and the film threw me onto the streets of Tehran – I became, in a word, overwhelmed. I was left angry when I saw how the passion of Ms. Najafi was constantly met with negativity by the head of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and religious leaders alike. I was left teary-eyed when the sheer beauty of the voices of these amazing women (also including some Iranians, namely the slightly older Parvin Namazi – pictured below – who would blow away anyone on “The Voice” without any need for musical accompaniment) couldn’t be silenced by repeatedly bad news and negativity from government officials. And every time I sneaked a peek at those sitting around me (conveniently – and exclusively – Persian) and could see the emotional responses they were having to everything that was happening, I knew that it was more than just a run-of-the-mill documentary that I was watching. This film became more of an experience, a seminal moment in my own life, and for that reason alone, I cannot thank Ms. Najafi enough. Selfishness aside, it’s a transfixing account of bravery and courage and the talent represented by all of those featured in the film is, in a word, perfection.
To say I was blown away would be an absolute understatement.
I was excited to learn more about a culture that over the last year has become increasingly more important to me. In all fairness, I had previously referred to it as a “beautiful culture” and I did get to witness the joy and true beauty that comes from the country and the people of Iran. What I didn’t realize, though, is how much that I would come to find out is just the opposite. The discounting of women and their potential as human beings is startling and something that I cannot bear to even think about. I don’t even want to imagine how many women have lived unfulfilled lives over the years, but I promise you that it isn’t a small number. And when you see just how talented these truly enslaved women are and how stunning their voices are, you’ll be begging for them to get this one shot at singing a solo on a stage in front of the general public. Something so small (to us) means the absolute world to them. And by the end of No Land’s Song, I promise that it will mean that much to you as well.
Part inspirational tear-jerker, part indictment upon the establishment, and part Once-like display of pure musical genius, No Land’s Song is a documentary that begs to be seen and discussed. It became so much more than just a movie to me and I implore you to seek it out whenever it becomes available to the masses (DVDs will hopefully be available in the near future). In a post-film Q&A, Ms. Najafi claimed disappointment that her aspirations of change had not been met, that she even considered herself something of a failure for not causing things to be different in her home country. I hope that she truly knows that while one documentary can’t make societal changes happen overnight, I believe deep down in my heart that WHEN change occurs, this film will be something that people can look back on as having had a major impact on such a revolutionary event. And in my opinion, when you not only seek to change the world, but the hearts and minds of those that happen to live in it, you have done something beyond respectable. My only hope at this point is that many more people are able to witness what I have and are able to let her know just what a fantastic job that she has done.
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