Die Dokumentation “No Land’s Song” von Sara und Ayat Najafi zeigt in eindrücklicher Weise die Willkür, mit der Kulturschaffende in Iran tagtäglich zu leben haben – und wie die Beharrlichkeit einer jungen Frau zum Erfolg ihres Projektes führt. Daniel Walter sprach mit den FilmmacherInnen
“Singing is the most revolutionary act you could do in Iran right now” – mit diesen Worten fasst die Komponistin Sara Najafi die Brisanz ihres Unternehmens zusammen, welches den Rahmen für “No Land’s Song” darstellt. Seit der Gründung der Islamischen Republik im Jahr 1979 herrscht im Iran ein Verbot weiblichen Gesangs, welches sowohl für Soloaufnahmen als auch -auftritte in der Öffentlichkeit gilt. Wie bei so vielen Verboten in dem Land gibt es jedoch auch hier etliche Grauzonen und Diskrepanzen zwischen der offiziellen Darstellung und dem Privatleben der Menschen. Doch Saras – von ihrem Bruder Ayat („Football Under Cover“) als Dokumentarfilm verarbeitetes – Vorhaben, ein Konzert mit Solistinnen in Teheran zu organisieren, offenbart die Willkür des iranischen Kulturministeriums gegenüber Frauen und KünstlerInnen. Hier zunächst der Trailer zum Film:
Daniel Walter: Is there anything for you that separates music from other art forms when it comes to challenging norms in society?
Ayat Najafi (A): Norms in society or norms that politics shape? There is a huge difference here.
Sara Najafi (S): The female voice is a good metaphor for the difficulties of women in Iran in general. You have very active women everywhere in society, facing the limitations and dealing with the violations of their basic rights.
For the concert with female singers, which you organized in Tehran, you invited a French band and the Tunisian singer Emel Mathlouthi to sing alongside the Iranian musicians and singers. Emel had become famous through a video from the protests against Zine al–Abidine Ben Ali in Tunis in 2011. What lead you to invite them and how did you first get in touch?
S: We chose Paris to start looking for musicians because there was a long history of cultural dialogue between Iran and France since the early 20th century and also because since the revolution of 1979 – ironically organized from Paris – many Iranian musicians have been living over there.
A: I was lucky to get in touch with Anne Grange, a producer, who introduced me to these great musicians. I attended their concerts and send their music to Sara.
S: Listening to their songs and reading about them made it clear that they were the right choice.
A: The idea was to present a festival of female voice – with different musical backgrounds and different generations – against the ban of the female voice in Iran. We wanted to engage musicians who are both engaged in social and political issues, and are also crossing the borders through their music.
There are several conversations in the movie about the differences the French band will have to expect in Iran. While organizing the concert and shooting the film, what struck you most within your work with the French musicians?
S: If we forget about the political difficulties and cultural differences and if we only think about music itself; we shared the same language. Either side, however, had a totally different imagination about the other one. But the very first rehearsal and the first jam session made it clear once more that music is our common language. That’s why, despite all the difficulties we faced from the ministry and beyond, we managed to go on stage and have a successful concert.
The film was shot right before and after the presidential election of Hassan Rouhani in 2013. Did this influence the way your project developed?
A: We started working on the project three years before the election so I don’t really mix the fate of the film with that. Of course, the new administration made it possible to get visas for our French and Tunisian artists. And likewise, the fresh air in the post election era was a big help. Yet, as we sadly observe in the current months, many musicians are still facing absurd obstacles. And more importantly, the fact that there was no official female solo singing ever since once again proves that the change has to come from within the society. Politicians usually are there to make the life unnecessarily difficult for us, so it’s up to us how to play our cards in different circumstances.
Apart from the obstacles in realizing the concert itself, what difficulties did you come across shooting the actual film?
A: I didn’t face any real difficulties because basically no one knew I was making this film. We managed to keep it quiet.
In one scene a religious scholar explains to you the reasons for the prohibition of females singing. Why was it important to you to show this?
S: When you don’t get a clear answer from the officials why female solo singing is forbidden, you want to hear it from the clerics who are supposed to have more knowledge on that. However, he also didn’t give me a clear and reasonable answer.
A: As a filmmaker, I wanted to show the complexity of the Iranian society and the mindset that many artists have to face.
You are also exploring abandoned theaters and cabarets. What happened to these buildings after the revolution?
A: A few months before the revolution, the Shah forbade cabarets and parts of the nightlife of that neighborhood we show in the film. He thought that by doing so he could stop the revolution. He was obviously wrong. The cabarets never reopened again. Theaters were partly active, but gradually closed down one after the other. Part of it is due to the gentrification of the city in post-war Tehran.
In the movie, you show that even CDs of legendary female singers, like Googoosh, are officially prohibited to be sold in public – and yet it happens. How does the preservation of the musical heritage for Iran’s youth work under these conditions?
A: The legendary female singers, and also the male singers of forbidden music genres, are alive in the collective memory of millions of Iranians. Tehran’s unique pop culture has moved to Los Angeles and many Iranian artists inside and outside Iran kept the connection to the past. As we see in the film: Buying a forbidden music album, like other forbidden things, is as easy as possible.
How far do the restrictions for female singing in Iran go? What about theater plays or movies, for example?
S: The official rule is that women are not allowed to sing solo for a general public audience. They might sing as back voice or in a group of at least three people accompanied by least one male singer, or for an entirely female public. There are also many underground concerts which are a different case. In movies and theaters you can sometimes hear female solo singing, but of course very limited and only for brief moments. But since you don’t introduce them as singers you face less problems.
A: That’s the point: they want to ignore the identity of female singers.
Since 2013, there have been small steps towards a liberalization of the art and culture scene. For example, galleries have more freedom in what they want to show and last fall, Albert Camus’ “Caligula” was put on stage for the first time in many years. How have things developed with regard to female singers since the movie was shot?
A: Things are always changing. The liberation of the art and culture scene started shortly after the end of the war. It was, of course, very slow. But then, we had a kind of relaxed period in the late 1990s. When I compare nowaday’s situation with the period between 1997 and 2005, we had much more freedom back then. And when it comes to music and female voice, those days were more relaxed. Was it good enough? Not at all – but much better than now. As I mentioned before, there unfortunately was no official concert with solo female singers since the concert shown in the film. Nevertheless, I don’t like to divide the artistic developments into the eras of the different governments. This movie is about a fight that a group of musicians start in order to gain some of their rights. This is a constant fight. It always was and it’s always going to be.
Die Deutschland-Premiere von „No Land’s Song“ findet am 09. März in der Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz in Berlin statt. Offizieller Kinostart ist der 10. März.
Noch bis 04. März 2016 lässt sich „No Land’s Song“ per Crowdfunding unterstützen.
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