The Sundance Film Festival, beginning today in Park City, Utah, is the 26th annual showcase of independent film. While distributors are on the lookout for breakouts like “Paranormal Activity” and “Little Miss Sunshine”, we’ve got our eye on a powerful documentary called “Kick in Iran.”
Kick in Iran is a look at contemporary life in Iran. It is a portrait of a talented Muslim athlete, a young woman coming of age, a female friendship, and the big dream of Olympic Gold.
Filmmaker Fatima Geza Abdollahyan was born in Germany and raised by her Iranian parents speaking Persian, German, English and French. She studied Political Science and earned a Master’s in International Relations before deciding, in 2001, to study film at the University of Television and Film Munich.
While working at a German television station in Tehran in 2005, Fatima covered the Muslim Women’s Games, a female sporting event that took place every 4 years (but are no longer running). Organized by the Iranian government, Muslim women from every corner of the globe – including the US – would descend on Tehran to compete for a week in a variety of disciplines.
At the games Fatima met Sara Khoshjamal-Fekri, a Taekwondo expert who hailed from a lower middle class family in Southern Tehran. In 2007 the twenty-year-old Sara became the first female Iranian athlete to qualify for the Olympics. The young athlete and her strong-willed coach, Maryam Azarmehr, had left such a strong impression on Fatima that she began documenting Sara’s journey over a nine-month period in the run-up to and the aftermath of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. After difficult negotiations with the governments of both Iran and China (neither receptive to open media and non-state-controlled cameras) nine months of filming, and another year and a half of editing “Kick In Iran” is finally complete.
The film follows Sara and Maryam as they navigate their way through an unappreciative society to the Olympics and back. The backbone of the film is the relationship between shagerd, pupil, and ostad, master, which extends beyond the realm of the gymnasium at which they train. The bond that has been built between the two is the result of the environment they operate in – a paternalistic one that’s not entirely receptive to their accomplishments, which are nothing short of history-making.
Throughout the film, Fatima shows how the cards are stacked against female athletes in Iran – and especially Sara. At one point, the Friday Prayer Leader of Tehran is heard stating his disgust at sending female athletes abroad to partake in competitions. Sara and Maryam, however, are not so easily deterred. While commentators and clerics debate the “Islamic legality” of female athletes in competition, the two women continue working towards their goal of being the best, and, in some ways, are sheltered from this by keeping to their routines.
In making the film, Fatima’s goal was to deliver performances that allow the audience to identify, connect, and really comprehend the matter at hand, which can be a real challenge. Sara and Maryam are people – women – just like any other. They may wear roosarys, headscarves, but their identities go beyond this.
In a male dominated society based on a rigid interpretation of Islamic laws, a professional female athlete like Sara constantly stretches limits. Thanks to the film “Kick in Iran” portraits of women like Sara and Maryam can emerge.
Here’s hoping this film finds a distributor and an audience.