I will never forget the Iran-U.S. hostage crisis in 1979, which lasted 444 days. I was barely six years old at the time, and my brother was 10. I remember one day he came home terrified because some kids had threatened to beat him up because our dad was Iranian. I think it was from that day on that I decided to keep my Iranian heritage more or less to myself. As the years passed, Iran didn’t seem to dissolve from the news like other countries did. There was an unsettling animosity towards Iranians after the hostage crisis that never seemed to fully disappear, and, after the Algiers Accord was passed in 1981, the U.S. severed all ties with Iran. Today, 28 years later, there are still no diplomatic relations between the two countries.
My father, however, always kept his country close to his heart and continued to travel back and forth throughout the years. After losing my American mother to cancer when I was 9 years old, my father became our primary care provider; because of this, my brother and I lived between two very different worlds — inside our home we practiced many aspects of Iranian tradition and culture while outside of our home we lived like two American kids. However, in many ways, I don’t think my brother and I ever felt like we fully belonged to either culture. Ever since I can remember, I have been answering questions about Iran’s government and political policies as if I am supposed to be an expert on the topic. For me, there has never been a separation between the personal and the political when it comes to these two countries in relationship.
So in 2004, when my brother and I were finally granted Iranian passports (which meant we could travel to Iran for the first time since we had gone as children before the hostage crisis), I was eager to see Iran with my own eyes. While planning for this trip, my brother decided that he wanted to take his American bride to Iran, and, amongst my father’s Iranian family and friends, have a Persian wedding. With the onset of the U.S.-Iraq war, and with tensions high between the U.S. and the Middle East, many people questioned us taking a trip to Iran at this time.
However, we were all determined to go, and I saw this as an amazing opportunity to join my brother and his bride, Heather, on their journey . . . with my camera. I wanted to follow them as they dealt with the complicated logistics of taking the trip: family conflicts, trepidation and, most of all, the interactions with everyday people in Iran. Through their experiences, both individually and together, I wanted to see another version of Iran than what I was used to seeing in the news. I also saw this as an excellent opportunity to make sense of the tainted relationship between the two countries, interweaving a 60-year history with the couple’s own journey.
As an Iranian American filmmaker, and as a sister to the groom, I was in the very unique position to gain intimate access to a fascinating country that has been sealed off to Americans (and most Western countries) for a quarter-century. And, I learned so much from the people we encountered along the way. From Abiyanee, the oldest traditional village in Iran, to the ancient capital of Esfahan, to the bustling modern capital, Tehran, the film is an honest and diverse portrayal of Iranians’ daily struggles for personal and political freedom and their desire to connect to the Western world. On the same token, it was amazing to see Alex and Heather transform throughout their journey and truly embrace Iran from their new experiences while shedding their past conceptions. I too was transformed in the process of making this film. I came up against many challenges when telling such a personal story and trying to find a balance in the retelling a very complicated multidimensional history.
Ultimately it was my goal to tell an intimate and personal story that was accessible and universal at the same time. I hope that the audience walks away from the film with a deeper understanding of Iran-U.S. relations. Over time, the actions — and reactions — of these governments have caused numerous misunderstandings and misconceptions among their citizens, resulting in the absence of even the most basic opportunities for exchange. Both Iranians and Americans have been forced to rely on politicized media representations that have been stripped of their multidimensional perspectives. This film takes the opportunity at this critical time in the history of U.S. relations with the Middle East to explore the metaphoric connection between two culturally diverse individuals in a marriage, and two polarized countries in a relationship. While you take the journey to Iran with Alex and Heather, I hope you are able to connect with what it means to be of a mixed, complex identity, or to marry into another culture. As relations between Iran and the U.S. continue to be volatile and fraught with finger-pointing, I also hope that you are able to gain a deeper understanding of these pivotal historical moments in a history where Iran and the U.S. have both played a role. I believe that understanding the past opens the space to move forward and create new possibilities for future generations.
Marjan Tehrani, Producer/Director
Marjan Tehrani is an independent director and producer from Berkeley, California. She founded the production company Tru Films and has directed and produced Her Israel, which premiered on the Sundance Channel in 2004. She also produced P-Star Rising, a feature documentary that follows a 13-year-old female rap star as she fulfills her father's deferred dreams of making it in the music business.
Beyond her independent work, Tehrani has produced several original series for television, including dLIFE TV on CNBC and the Emmy-nominated After School on PBS, which featured celebrity alumni such as Harvey Keitel and Tim Robbins returning to their urban high schools as role models. Through Tru Films, Tehrani is dedicated to promoting dialogue between cultures, sharing the intricate and subtle aspects of identity, and capturing the transformative moments of the human experience with both humor and integrity.