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Giving a people a voice, a face

September 15, 2009

Giving a people a voice, a face

Filmmaker Neda Sarmast stood in front of more than 200 attending PLU students preparing for the screening of her documentary.

Her film, “Nobody’s Enemy: Youth Culture in Iran,” takes the viewer into Iran to learn about, listen to and meet the youth of Iran.

The size of the crowd was impressive, exciting to Sarmast.

“I was just so moved to see how powerful you are and how powerful your international programs are,” she told the crowd about her research into PLU.

But really it is Sarmast’s story that is so powerful and offers a unique perspective about the people of two countries who may not be as different as they think – Iran and the United States.

She was born in Iran, but moved to the United States when she was 9 years old. For many years she worked in the music industry managing and collaborating with worldwide sensations, such as Bon Jovi.

But with incidents like, 9/11, the image of her birthplace was painted as purely evil, she said. Not just the politics, but also the people.

“I became them,” she said of being viewed as a person who looked like “the terrorists.”

“There was ‘us’ and ‘them,’” she recalled.

And it wasn’t just in America this “us-them” mentality played out. In Iran she was viewed as a Westerner.

The reality was a fear of the unknown, she told the students.

“And you fear of what you don’t know.

“The Iran I knew was not the same as the Iran they show on the news,” Sarmast said. “It was not my intention to become a filmmaker. It was my intention to get a message out.”

So Sarmast decided after years in the music industry she would find a way to give a voice to the Iran she knew, the people who went unheard.

She wanted to show the human faces of Iran. So, she returned to her birthplace and ventured to make a film that would give voice to the people that make-up most of Iran – young people.

In fact, about 70 percent of the people in Iran are under the age of 30. Her film followed young people who are part of a budding underground hip hop scene and young women who are attending college. She was even present during the last Iranian Presidential elections.

“When I was in Iran, people would say ‘when you go back to America let them know we’re not their enemy,’” Sarmast said. “After traveling all over the world and all over the middle east, I can say for sure the Iranian people are friends of the American people.”

The Diversity Center, Student Involvement & Leadership, and the Common Reading Program presented the screening of the film. The film is extending the conversation about Iran that began with the reading and discussion of the book Persepolis.

First-year students read the book as part of the Common Reading Program.

“Our goal with the Common Reading Program is really to encourage a common learning community,” said Amber Dehne, co-chair of CRP.

Throughout the semester more learning opportunities will be offered, so students are able to broaden their minds in finding learning materials in a variety of ways, she said.

By having films like Sarmast’s available on campus, Dehne said, students can learn perspectives that otherwise may go unnoticed and engage in thoughtful inquiry and discussion.

Doorways Editor Chris Albert produced this report. For more information or comments, contact Albert at 253-535-8691 or