“Before the Revolution,” a film made by Iranian-born Israeli Dan Shadur, recalls the final days of the Israeli community in Tehran, on the eve of the Islamic Revolution. It will be aired Tuesday evening on BBC Persian Television, a satellite channel that broadcasts in Persian and is aired in Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. This is the first time the channel is showing an Israeli film and this will coincide with the 35th anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s revolution in Iran.
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Tonight, in advance of the broadcast, an interview with Shadur will be featured on the channel’s main news broadcast. The interview and the film will both be dubbed into Persian. Later in the week the channel has promised to broadcast a selection of readers’ reactions to the documentary.
Shadur’s 2013 film, an Israeli-American coproduction which was produced by Barak Heymann (and has been broadcast in Israel on the Yes Docu channel), tells about the pre-1979 Israeli community in Tehran, to which Shadur’s family belonged. The film describes a kind of paradise lost in which the Israelis were very well-off financially and had a thriving communal life, while at the same time ignoring the social injustice and oppression experienced by the Iranian people under the rule of the shah.
Shadur notes that at one point, an Iranian television station that broadcasts in English within Iran showed an interest in his film and considered purchasing it, but the deal fell through. During various screenings of the documentary around the world, he says, he has become aware of the fact that Iranians are very excited by the film, and react to it strongly. He says that this was a surprise, because he thought he was speaking from a very personal and Israeli point of view.
“Many Iranians say that the film respects them and their narrative. Many people who experienced the revolution approach me and say that they are opposed to the present regime and everything that’s happening in Iran," Shadur explains. "They feel that the film expresses something of their outcry at the time, and that there was a reason why the revolution took place. As opposed to Hollywood films that present the architects of the revolution as a fanatic and bloodthirsty horde, they feel that it does take their viewpoint into account.
"Someone who was a prisoner of the shah’s secret police saw the film in Toronto and said that it expresses his pain. The film shows the problems in prerevolutionary Iran and the fact that the West was a part of them. And Israel was there, too."
On the other hand, Shadur continues, "there are some who miss the good life they once had, and for them the film fulfills a nostalgic need. For younger people who were educated in the school system of the Islamic Republic, this past has been erased, both the Israeli and the secular past, in terms of their images. The pre-revolutionary archives are not accessible. These things [in the film] don’t exist in the official narrative of the Islamic Republic. Younger people are very excited about seeing it and they’re curious.”
Shadur says that he has also encountered the reactions of Iranian exiles who didn’t like the film: “In Los Angeles there was a very intense screening. There were many who said that it’s still impossible to say things against the shah. That he must not be called a dictator, and it’s not right that I do that. There are people who still perceive him as a kind of god. Occasionally, there were also adverse reactions from the left, too. Young people who felt that the film doesn’t show respect for the Iranian people and isn’t sufficiently critical of the Israelis, that it’s too soft on them.”
In the interview on television, which will be dubbed into Persian, Shadur says he will try to convey a message of peace and brotherhood.
“I’ll tell my story and about my connection to Iran," he explains. "I feel that the interview itself and the screening of the film is a powerful and interesting act. It’s something that wouldn’t have happened a year or two ago. Maybe now there’s a kind of openness.”