An Iranian-American Woman’s Quest to Reconnect With Her Heritage



Tons of of individuals sat shoulder-to-shoulder fanning unfastened papers and clutching water bottles dripping with condensation within the 93-degree warmth to observe Joonam (2023), a documentary following three generations of Iranian ladies and their relationships with Iran and America. The screening final week, hosted by Rooftop Movies in Brooklyn, was a celebration of Iranian artwork, tradition, and neighborhood that drew crowds of Iranian American locals. 

Earlier than the screening, Mehrnam Rastegari carried out a standard Iranian violin set. Behind Brooklyn Commons Park, a seemingly limitless line fashioned in entrance of Bibi Bakery’s pop-up promoting saffron ice cream sandwiches and faloodeh, a frozen Persian dessert with skinny noodles, rose water, and lime juice. 

Following half-hour of informal chatter amongst seatmates and introductions of mutual associates, Joonam, named for a Persian phrase of endearment, opened with a scene of filmmaker Sierra Urich studying Persian. Born and raised in Vermont to an Iranian mom and an American father, Urich, like many within the diaspora, didn’t develop up talking Persian or visiting Iran, but she yearned for connection to the nation. She began Persian classes as an grownup to higher talk together with her grandmother, and within the course of, got here to know elements of her id as an Iranian-American lady. Language performs a equally highly effective and contentious function all through the movie as Urich’s mom, Mitra, is the translator and bridge between Urich and her grandmother, Behjat. 

Opening scene of Joonam, with filmmaker Sierra Urich studying Persian in her kitchen in Vermont 

All through the screening of the movie, which tells the story of Urich’s quest to attach together with her grandmother, mom, and Iran, viewers members could possibly be heard repeatedly blurting out observations to their neighbors. “She is my mother!” one mentioned. “That’s precisely like my grandmother,” one other whispered. Audible laughs, sighs, and Persian-language commentary frequently ebbed and flowed. Viewers’ connections to Iran had been geographically, linguistically, and generationally numerous, many uniting over household histories of exile following the 1979 Iranian Revolution. On display, the ladies naturally blended humor into traumatic recollections of life in Iran, infusing notes of levity into their experiences of household separation, persecution, and immigration. 

The movie, which debuted on the Sundance Movie Pageant earlier this 12 months, captures every lady’s story of girlhood. Over a number of scenes, Behjat explains how, opposite to widespread conceptions, her early teen marriage liberated her. “I used to be simply pleased to be free!” she says, clapping and singing over a bonfire. “To do no matter my coronary heart wished … With my husband, I used to be free.” Mitra’s independence got here when she arrived in america for faculty, removed from her household again in Iran. And for Urich, the documentary was her second of reckoning.

“It was like discovering myself by way of making the movie,” she informed Hyperallergic in an interview after the screening. 

Joonam strays away from overtly political ideology and the household’s Baha’i religion, as a substitute specializing in depictions of Iranian tradition, reminiscence, and fractured id. The movie’s uncooked presentation of parent-child relationships resonates with folks past the diaspora, displaying the common “expertise of vying on your personal independence other than your loved ones,” in Urich’s phrases

Over the course of 100 minutes, the three ladies bicker, snigger, sing, cry, and embrace one another whereas studying and re-learning one another’s pasts. Picturesque, bucolic scenes of the Vermont countryside function the ladies’s backdrop, a nod to Urich’s Americanness and Behjat’s “lack of connection to the land,” a perspective Urich mentioned she solely absolutely realized as soon as she edited the movie. 

Mehrnam Rastegari enjoying the violin earlier than the Joonam screening at Rooftop Movies (picture Mandy Taheri/Hyperallergic)

“Artwork is a two-way avenue that enables us to attach,” Urich mentioned throughout a Q&A session moderated by actor Arian Moayed. The panel was lower quick as a consequence of lightning and rain, however nonetheless, viewers members lined as much as embrace Urich and her mom and focus on how they personally associated to the movie. Many Azeri audio system relayed how Behjat, who was from the northwestern Iranian metropolis of Ardabil, sounded identical to their maternal kin. One viewer informed Urich that Behjat’s phrase selections in Azeri had been “so particular, eloquent, and poetic,” one thing Urich was unaware of since she doesn’t converse the language. 

The movie, primarily shot on a tripod, weaves archival household footage in Iran and America with movies of the Iranian Revolution and the continuing motion for ladies’s freedom in Iran. Final September, demonstrations erupted throughout Iran following the loss of life of Mahsa (Zhina) Amini in police custody. Since then, the Islamic Republic has responded with excessive violence in direction of protestors, leading to 1000’s of arrests, a whole bunch of deaths, and a number of other executions. Regardless of the state’s violence, some Iranians proceed to have interaction in delicate and overt protests. In distinction to her mom’s portrayal within the movie, Urich believes this younger technology is “sick of being afraid” and is reclaiming “their Iran.”

Actor Arian Moayed and his daughter; Sierra Urich; and Mitra Samimi-Urich at Bijan’s (picture by and courtesy Dennis Manuel)

Round 11:15pm, Moayed led greater than three dozen folks to a close-by Iranian-owned restaurant, Bijan’s, to proceed the celebration. Viewers crammed into the nice and cozy bar and ordered Again House Beer, a Persian lager that was hand-delivered for the afterparty. There, new acquaintances naturally shared experiences and tales about Iran, Iranian id, and dwelling within the diaspora. 

“I felt that this film was made for me to get pleasure from,” Sarmad Mehrdad, an Iranian PhD scholar and native at Bijan’s, informed Hyperallergic. “The whole lot about Mitra and Behjat impersonates those that I’ve left behind again in Iran.”


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