Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Born in Evin: Starting Life as a Political Prisoner

Maryam Zaree survived a nightmare of early childhood development and still turned out okay. It helped to have two loving parents—once they were released from Iran’s notoriously harsh Evin Prison. That is where Zaree spent the first two years of her life as an infant political prisoner, but she remembers nothing of the experience. Bothered by her gap in memory, Zaree tries to get her mother to finally discuss those nightmarish days in her deeply personal documentary, Born in Evin, which releases today on VOD.

Like many progressive Iranians, Zaree’s parents initially supported to revolution against the Shah, only to find themselves prisoners of conscience under the new, even less tolerant Islamist regime. Unlike many of their cell-mates, her mother Nargess and father Kasra were eventually released after years of brutal imprisonment, much to their own surprise. First, Zaree was turned over to her grandparents and then her mother was released. They immigrated to Frankfurt, where her father eventually joined them.

Her parents are no longer together, which sadly often happens when couples endure years of forced separation. Regardless, her father definitely remained part of her life. Yet, despite his greater openness to questions, he could tell her little, because he was held captive in the men’s wing of the prison.

At times, Born is almost too personal. We see a lot of Zaree’s agonizing over her mother’s reluctance to participate. However, as she widens her focus to include any other survivors who like her, either were born or spent formative years in the notorious prison, she makes valid points about memory and testimony. Indeed, the current regime would much prefer it if the survivors of Evin’s torture chambers refused to discuss the horrors they endured.

Although it is not exactly an expose per se, Born definitely still establishes the everyday practice of physical and psychological torture within Evin’s walls. For more information, there are excellent resources on the Iran Tribunal’s website (where Zaree films one of her fellow child prisoners offering testimony).

It is clear the terrors and trauma of Evin continue to haunt survivors, including Zaree herself, in ways she is only starting to understand. We definitely come to feel like we know her immediate family on a personal level and sympathize with them all quite keenly. However, more historical-political context would widen the film’s appeal for educational and public affairs venues. Still very much recommended for some compelling oral history, Born in Evin releases today (6/9) on VOD platforms.