TEHRAN: Six years in the life of an adolescent crime gang that breaks into cars in the streets of Tehran.
A film in which we see real crimes committed without the intervention of the police might in itself be enough of a reason to catch our interest, but 20th Circuit Suspects has several other attention-grabbers: one of the crime victims is the filmmaker Hesam Eslami himself; the filmmaker becomes personally involved in the lives of the criminals; and the illicit events take place in Iran, a country not known for allowing the outside world to observe the underside of its society.
The main protagonist of the film is Eshan, the leader of a gang of young thieves, whose relationship with Eslam begins after the filmmaker catches him breaking into his car. Eslami follows Eshan and his gang over the course of 6 years, during which time Eshan has several run- ins with the police, serves jail time and, with fatherly help from a devoted NGO youth worker – and encouragement from Eslami — eventually is rehabilitated, marries and starts a family. Along the way Eslami and Eshan also become close friends.
Each part of this film journey raises thought-provoking issues, both through what the filmmaker shows and what he ignores.
The most controversial question is the extent to which filmmakers can remain neutral bystanders without an obligation to intervene in the events happening around them. In the film, Eslami fails to report to the police the crimes he is witnessing – mainly the gang breaking into cars in order to steal radios and car speakers, and the wanton vandalism of billboards and other property. Did Eslami act in an ethical way?
This is a familiar debating point often raised when journalists and filmmakers return from a battlefield or other violent venue with footage of the wounded and dying. In some cases, professional dedication is valued, as for example when Associated Press photographer Burhan Ozbilici kept on taking pictures while the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated in an Ankara art gallery in 2016. Even though Ozbilici arguably could have immediately stopped working and either run to assist the victim or summoned the police, he kept on taking pictures. Yet in this case the result was widespread recognition for his perseverance, with one of his photos actually winning him the Photo of the Year prize in the 2017 World Press Photo contest.
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