Why do women keep protesting against injustice, knowing they are risking their lives? Mahsa Amini was only 22 years old when she was arrested by Iran’s Islamic religious police – the morality police. What did the 22-year-old woman do? She did not wear a hijab according to government standards. According to the official statement, she died from a heart attack at the police station in September 2022, but a woman who was detained with her reported that Amini was severely beaten and killed due to police brutality.
Forty-three years earlier, in 1978/79, millions of people were gathered in the streets of Teheran protesting against the Shah. The streets were full of tanks ready to open fire, but luckily, the soldiers refused. These are strong and scary images from the winning film at MakeDox, Between Revolutions, by Romanian Vlad Petri.
We are in Skopje, North Macedonia. Sitting in brown plastic chairs under the fig tree next to the outdoor cinema in Kurshumli An – an Ottoman inn for travellers was built in the 15th or 16th century. It is 35 degrees. Film director Petri and I are drinking water and wondering what kind of people and conversations have occurred here over the years.
Petri’s film is made exclusively from archival footage, and the story is told by the voices of two fictional characters, Zahra from Iran and Maria from Romania, who studied together at the Bucharest Medical School. Zahra returned to Tehran not long before the Islamic Revolution to participate in the protests against the Shah. The two friends are writing letters about their daily lives, hopes, and longing for each other. They both struggle to survive and describe their effort to find ways to make life meaningful despite the restrictions ordered by the regime.
They both struggle to survive and describe their effort to find ways to make life meaningful despite the restrictions ordered by the regime.
«I talked with my mother about her student years in Romania and saw her photos. Maria has many elements from my mother’s life and what she experienced during Communism in 1979,» Petri says.
That was the year Petri was born. In the same year, the archive clips in the film show us Teheran full of people shouting, «Down with women not wearing hijab» and «Glory to those wearing hijab.»
«I am interested in how people live, their fights and hopes, and I have a heartfelt curiosity about how the East looked at Romania as a Western country. And how a common enemy will unite you. That started my research,» Petri continued.
We then pause while an imam is calling prayers from the mosque next to the festival venue.
Petri frames the story in the revolution—the most important revolution in Iran and the great protest in 1989 in Bucharest.
«I am more fascinated by the archival material than the present, he smiles and continues, I got in contact with an Iranian who had private 8mm footage and trusted it to me, and in Romania with a filmmaker who worked for the state and kept material for himself. That was my luck.»
As it turned out later, Petri had more luck.
Petri searched for information about his mother in the so-called propaganda archives. He realised that the material was controlled and would not work with the private images in the film.
In Between Revolutions, Petri describes the lives and concerns of the two women. It is done utilising their letters – written by Lavinia Branişte and brought to life by the voices of Victoria Stoiciu and Ilinca Hărnuţ, and by the archival footage. The images are everyday events and history unfolded – like the mass protests in the streets against the Shah. Soon, Imam Khomeini returned to Iran, and we understand how Zahra’s life was forever changed. Later, in Romania, Maria stresses things are not as they used to be. She has to marry a colleague from the hospital, unable to fight her parents anymore. Soon, Ceausescu’s picture is burning, and the Romanian army is on the side of the people. The regime has been overthrown, and they are free, but now their money is worth nothing.
«I studied Persian when a friend introduced me to a journalist. He was very upset because he thought I would make a film about the feminist poet Forough Farrokhzad, although the film was not about her. He wanted to know who financed the film, got increasingly angry and tried to film me. I felt very uncomfortable after this strange encounter. Luckily, nothing happened to me.»
The film premiered in Iran at an underground screening arranged by Iranians.
«I was not there, but I got a fantastic response. Some of them had never seen the archival footage, so it was an honour for me to have the film screened in Iran. In Romania, the screening was very emotional; they truly connected with the women and the story.»
Petri says that he likes structure and challenges in the editing.
«I was afraid to put too much emotion in the film. At one time, I was depressed and afraid that I could not find the means, balance, and red thread. In the end, the editor convinced me that voices were more intimate than the text I was initially thinking of.»
I experienced Vlad Petri’s self-imposed challenges. In July, when he attended the film festival Icedocs, Iceland, he decided to walk up to the erupting volcano Litli Hruturs. He posted a picture with the text: «It was hard to get here, but what an experience.»
In the film, the two women never meet again, and we are unsure if «Zahra» survived her protests. But we know that many brave women have fought and risked their lives.
Amini’s death resulted in a large protest in Iran. Female demonstrators removed their hijab or publicly cut their hair in protest. Iran Human Rights reported that by December 2022, «at least 476 people had been killed by security forces attacking protesters across the country.»