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With camera, nuclear equipment and dawn in Iran


In December, I was received by a couple of nice Iranians at the airport in Tehran. I arrive after a long journey at midnight, and will give a lecture at the Cinéma Verité festival only in a couple of days. Enough time to prepare. But then I am told that the lectures must start already the next morning. The main guest is not coming and I have to step inside. On a Sunday? I ask. It is supposedly a normal working day in Iran. After a night of intense preparation, I then meet a packed hall with 100 filmmakers. The five-fold had apparently applied to join the festival seminars. I greet with folded hands the many bearded and shawl-clad. Sets me up with my little Mac to view slides and movie clips on the projector. But the connection I was assured they had – they still do not have it. I get hot in the neck; everyone is sitting and waiting. Maybe I can copy the lectures onto their old PC? After 40 minutes of moving movie clips in front of patient Iranian film directors who all feel sorry for me, someone who has obtained a Mac connection comes in and saves me. I thank you heartily in the Iranian way with two hands in his. And since there are few who know English, I get enough time for the interpreter with the interpreter to be able to improvise – in the six hours it all lasts. When I show clips from Pasolini and Chris Marker's films, the audience asks eagerly and interestedly. Documentaries can be a political tool – using a critical commentary voice. An elderly man suddenly asks annoyed from the audience why I go through all of Marker's political films from the revolutionary Paris of the 60s and 70s. They had already carried out the revolution here in Tehran as early as 1979? During the break, four younger Iranians approach me and discreetly tell me in English that their Revolution started in 2009 – I should not listen to those from the state who were present. The eight younger, socially engaged filmmakers from the green revolution I spend the private evening with – all with turned off mobile phones – talk about changes in Iran: about women's increasing participation in the debate, about the 800 independent documentaries made every year in the country, about the disappointment over the fact that presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi did not win in 2009. Several of them ended up in prison at the time. They assume they are being watched – that's why Mousavi's daughter did not join us; I was a foreigner, and she could not risk trouble. Her parents were still under house arrest. The woman who had tried to make a documentary about her father had been taken in for questioning and asked not to. Later, I meet several of these Iranians in private, I bring a film camera and interview three women and a man about the importance of freedom in the country. Mohammedreza makes a film about his own divorce (see case page 2) after his wife left him – a self-critical film about the male role. I will eventually have the opportunity to meet the lawyer who defends prisoners from the Green Revolution – she has only recently been released from prison. But I am warned by Mohammedreza who invited me to Tehran: If I meet her with a camera and microphone on the street where she is participating in a demonstration, I will probably be arrested and end up in Evin prison for six months. Norwegian authorities will have to negotiate to get me out by giving something back. Despite all the friendly handshakes and attention I have received through a series of interviews at the festival, the whole festival would turn its back on me. The risk was not worth it. On the other hand, I filmed a lot around the streets – people and situations, clips for the documentary The meaning of freedom - until I was called for. As fast as I could, I tried to get away and ran around the corner. But people crowded in, a military guy started pulling at me, and I followed to the police station across the street, into an anonymous door. I played dumb, talked about tourism, but no, angry, they asked me to delete pictures in the camera. And what did I have in my pocket? There was no point in trying to hide the other camera chip. My helper was abruptly pushed away. No one spoke English. I erased and erased, with a sweaty forehead. Fortunately, I escaped arrest or had my camera confiscated – something others constantly experienced. Still: Iranians are open to foreigners, it is a hospitable country. People are friendly, helpful and curious. I therefore went south, to find desert sand where I could film a couple of chador-clad women (see picture on the front page). Using my iPhone, I found pictures of an area with some sandy, deserted mountain slopes. The shadows there had to be fabulous for filming. I ask for advice at the hotel, hire a driver by car – my film crew is ready for the morning light the next day. Coincidentally, we interrogate a local man before we drive into the deserted area, and then I realize: We would all have been arrested. Underneath this sand mountain massif is hidden a larger nuclear plant, guaranteed to be monitored to prevent foreigners with cameras from moving nearby. Now, four months later, the United States and Iran have reached an agreement on restricting nuclear activities against easing sanctions on Iran (see front page). The agreement will give the United States an advantage in a Middle East where many aspire to a better life economically and democratically – something I clearly noticed during my visit. Today's President Rouhani stands for modernization and pragmatism, and the United States needs a country other than oppressive Saudi Arabia to deal with in the region. In the West, people listen to the prosperous Iranian diaspora. And in the Iran I visited, declining birth rates and increasing divorces suggest a modernization. The changes come from below, in a culturally radical way. Last year, Ayatollah Khamenei expressed great concern that a non-Islamic "cultural invasion" was imminent. Next time I visit Tehran: Will our Iranian friends privately not have to take the batteries out of their cell phones when we discuss?

Truls Lie
Truls Liehttp: /
Editor-in-chief in MODERN TIMES. See previous articles by Lie i Le Monde diplomatique (2003–2013) and Morgenbladet (1993-2003) See also part video work by Lie here.

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