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“Starless Dreams”, Most Powerful Film of Human Rights Watch Festival

Monday, June 27, 2016

“Starless Dreams” Directed by Mehrdad Oskui has been introduced by the New York Times as the Human Rights Watch festival’s most powerful film.

The Times Writes: "The Human Rights Watch festival’s most powerful film, Mehrdad Oskouei’s “Starless Dreams,” wrings a poignant twist on the “Sisters are Doin’ It for Themselves” concept. In this heartbreaking work, the director interviews girls housed in a Tehran rehabilitation center for juvenile delinquents. They all live in a dormitory where they develop close ties, and their friendships and the mutual support they give one another are deeply touching.

That this is a sisterhood formed by circumstance doesn’t make it any less a sorority. Their openness makes their first-person horror stories of familial captivity, abuse and punishment, often at the hands of male relatives, all the more hair-raising.

What amazes is their collective joie de vivre in the face of horrific experience. As they talk about beatings from parents, about addicted fathers who force them to sell drugs, and about running away from home and surviving on the streets, these fresh-faced young women don’t mince words. Although keenly aware of their social disgrace, they possess an astonishing inner resilience and prefer to see themselves as victims of circumstances beyond their control rather than wrongdoers. The movie was made on condition that they not be followed after leaving the center. Your heart aches for those who are returned to hellish conditions from which the center provided a temporary refuge. Those not taken back by their families face a frightening unknown."

Murder, drug addiction, highjacking cars, running away from home. These are just a few of the crimes that the girls from the rehabilitation centre for juvenile delinquents in Tehran have committed. For seven years, director Mehrdad Oskouei sought permission from the Iran's authorities to allow him to film this strange place, otherwise hidden from the public eye. Once inside, he then shared their tears, laughter, defiance, fear and loneliness. The result is an incredibly intimate documentary about the dreams, nightmares and hopes of women who, going by their age, should still be children. Their personal stories show their desire to return to freedom and live a normal life, but also the fear of what is waiting for them on the outside.

Director’s statement: "Having already produced and directed documentaries about male juvenile delinquency, I decided to continue with one about the female variety. It took seven years to finally get permission to start filming and the result is the very first movie about girls in the correctional and rehabilitation centres of Iran. The film tries to act as the voice of voiceless innocent girls whose mistreatment and difficult upbringing led them to a life of delinquency. I personally think that we as a society are guiltier than the girls in question and hope that my film will help change our attitude towards them."

Mehrdad Oskouei is an Iranian filmmaker, producer, photographer and researcher born in Tehran in 1969 and later graduating in film direction from the University of Arts.  His films have been screened at numerous festivals both at home and abroad to great critical acclaim, making him one of the major Iranian documentary makers. In 2010 Oskouei received the Dutch Prince Claus Award for his achievements. He is a founding member of the Institute of Anthropology and Culture and has sat on several international film festival juries as well as being a cultural ambassador for the United Nation’s humanitarian committee UCHA. He also teaches at film schools around Iran and is active in the Tehran Arts and Culture Association.

Oskouei's "Starless Dreams" received Awards from different festivals: Special Jury Award and The Best Documentary Award at Portugal's 12th New Directors, June 2016, Amnesty International Film Prize at the 66th Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlinale-Generation 14plus, Germany, 2016; True Vision Award for at the 13th True/False Film Festival, Columbia, Missouri, USA, 2016; The Reva and David Logan Grand Jury Award; The Full Frame Inspiration Award, at the 19th Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, North Carolina, USA, 2016; Best Photography Award; Women Special Prize; Grand Prix at the 13th International Documentary Film Festival CRONOGRAF, Chisinau, R. of Moldova, 2016,...

Sonita” directed by Rokhsareh Qaemmaqami has also been praised at the festival.

The documentary is about Sonita Alizadeh, an Afghan refugee living in Iran who fights to keep her dream of becoming a rap star alive, while her family attempts to sell her as a bride.

According to the New York Times, "Ms. Alizadeh, who has no passport or papers, was not permitted to perform in Iran either. Her idol is Rihanna, and she fantasizes that she is the daughter of Rihanna and Michael Jackson.

Sonita is living with her sister and her niece when she meets Ms. Maghami. When her mother, whom she hasn’t seen in eight years, tries to persuade her daughter to be sold into marriage to fund a dowry for her older brother, Ms. Maghami intervenes and helps buy the girl’s freedom. Ms. Alizadeh made a video, “Brides for Sale,” which led a nonprofit organization to bring her to the United States, where she is studying at Utah Valley University in Wasatch on a full scholarship. “Sonita” won the grand jury prize for world cinema at this year’s Sundance Film Festival."

Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami was born in Tehran and studied filmmaking and animation in Tehran Art University. Her short documentary works include Pigeon Fanciers (2000), A Loud Solitude (2010), Born 20 Minutes Late (2010), Going Up the Stairs (2011), and the animated documentary Cyanosis (2007).

The HRW Film Festival currently screens in over 20 cities around the world throughout the year. The festival's programming committee operates out of the New York office to screen more than 500 films each year. Through a rigorous vetting process, that includes review by Human Rights Watch’s programmatic staff, the festival chooses approximately 40 films each year to participate in our various festivals. It is then up to the particular city and its programming committee to choose films from this final selection for their specific festival.

In selecting films for the festival, Human Rights Watch concentrates equally on artistic merit and human rights content. The festival encourages filmmakers around the world to address human rights subject matter in their work and presents films from both new and established international filmmakers.

*Credit to: The News York Times, Tehran Times, FararuHRW Film Festival

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