Iranians Radiate Warm Glow of Hope for Future
Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Rick Pettigrew
My recent visit to Tehran was a revelation. The invitation I received to be a juror for the Cinema Verite Documentary Film Festival came as a surprise and caused some apprehension, but I'm glad I accepted. I found Iranians ready for change and eager to participate with us as friends in the world community.
Over a five-day span, I met and worked with many people. Aside from airport security personnel, all were excited to see an American and to talk with me freely about any topic, personal or political.
One highly curious woman, a 23-year-old soccer player and a devout Muslim wearing a head scarf, asked me what might be the key question: "Do Americans think we are terrorists?"
The question gave me pause, and my answer was highly qualified. No: Most Americans (but not all), upon reflection, might agree that Iranians by and large are not terrorists. However, yes: We worry that the Iranian government supports groups like Hezbollah, and we imagine terrible consequences if such a group acquired a nuclear weapon.
At the same time, her question highlighted an important reality: Most Iranians reject terrorism, are tired of conflict and yearn for normal international relations.
Organizers of the film festival bent over backwards to make me feel welcome and at ease. The festival's director emphasized how honored and pleased they were that I had accepted their invitation, and he pointedly remarked how my presence there reflected a new sense of hope sweeping over Iran since Iranians elected their new president, Hassan Rouhani.
The director invited me to return next year and bring films from our annual Eugene event, the Archaeology Channel International Film and Video Festival, to show in a special Cinema Verite section.
Cultural exchanges such as film festivals are wonderful channels of communication between societies. Cinema is an especially useful tool of this kind for Iran, where film plays an extremely important role. Film-making in Iran dates back to 1900, and Iranian film directors are honored like rock stars. I worked with the esteemed female Iranian film director Rakhshan Banietemad on our festival jury - she has a display case devoted to her career in the Film Museum of Iran.
The film industry in Iran, including Cinema Verite, is funded mostly by the government. The festival received more than 1,000 film entries. …