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excerpts from Bassidji.
In 2000, 16 years after my arrival in France, I decided to go back to live in Iran for a while to gain a better understanding of my country. In 2002, a combination of circumstances gave me an opportunity to attend a ceremony of national mourning in honor of Imam Hussein, the third Shiite imam who died as a martyr at Karbala 1300 years ago. I found myself spending several hours under a tent with some Bassidjis who had gathered for the ten nights of traditional mourning. The Bassidjis originated amongst veterans of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) who fought against the enemy while hoping to die as martyrs. All around the room were martyrs’ photos, battle reconstitution maps and a few objects belonging to dead soldiers.
I was both surprised and upset: 14 years after its end, the war was still omnipresent. It is found everywhere, in official speeches and public spaces, on Iranian television, for example, or in the frescos of the martyrs in the streets of Tehran….
That night, I had a long discussion with one of the Bassidjis who was my age. I was intrigued and tried to get to learn more about the Bassidjis’ background. Within a few months, I developed a relationship with some of them. I visited them and they came to see me, and they had the opportunity to get to know my world and meet some of my friends.
I kept meeting other Bassidjis even more dedicated, more devoted to the cause of the Islamic republic, and I realized that no one can comprehend today’s Iranian society without truly understanding who the Bassidjis are.
The Bassidj literally permeates the whole of Iranian society. It is present in every part of the capital and in provincial cities, especially around mosques, and symbolizes the omnipresence of government authority, which is deeply rooted in everyday life. This presence in the smallest city neighborhoods both demonstrates and maintains its popular support. Through its pervasive presence and extremely well organised structure, the Bassidj can get 100% of children under 6 vaccinated in a single day. It can also intervene quickly and everywhere at the government’s request in order to suppress trouble or public unrest and at the same time pass on information thus gleaned from the base.
As outside perspectives are often radical, rigid and abstract, I chose to penetrate the world of the Bassidjis to get a better understanding of the paradigms that guide them. In order to achieve this, one must dare to listen to what the other has to say.
This film is an attempt to bring together individuals who are totally different (the most radical elements of the Islamic Republic and myself, an Iranian of the diaspora, an intellectual, atheist, and living in France) but are part of the same society so that they can meet and exchange their ideas. This film is both a social and political project and at the same time an individual quest, which I hope to share with the audience.
Despite my fears, I always forced myself to ask real questions, to give an honest point of view while responding to the questions asked. Despite a fundamental opposition and total disagreement, I truly tried to initiate a discussion that people who are part of the same society should have if they are to consider one another as human beings and if they care about the survival of their society, their culture and their world.
Hence I always avoided direct criticism in favour of listening, while affirming my difference, and taking responsibility for who I was and what I thought. I established a direct, frank and transparent dialog with people who usually only express themselves within the limits of the official propaganda.
My numerous trips back and forth to Iran, my countless meetings, the temporary confiscation of the first tapes I shot by the Intelligence Service, the intense dialogs, and the moments of shared celebration transformed this film into a personal project, a pathway that is as important as the film itself.
Mehran Tamadon, whose father was a Tudeh member, is an Iranian-French architect and filmmaker. He arrived in France at the age of 12 in 1984. In 2000, he returned to Iran to work as an architect. In 2004, he made his first documentary film, Behesht Zahra, Mothers of the Martyrs. Bassidji (2009), about the defenders of the Islamic Republic of Iran, is his first feature-length documentary. For more information about Bassidji, visit <www.bassidjimovie.com>. Read, also, Bill Meyer’s interview with Tamadon: “A Revealing Documentary about Iran” (People’s World, 5 October 2009).