Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sundance ’11: The Green Wave

Are a stolen election and a massive, coordinated assault on human rights enough to forestall reform in the Islamic Republic of Iran or will they fuel the fires lit by the “Green” coalition? While our current administration was busy being scrupulously “nonprovocative,” hundreds of Iranians from all walks of life were arrested during the protests of 2009, many of whom would never be heard from again. The courage and idealism of those Iranian activists is celebrated in Ali Samadi Ahadi’s partially animated documentary The Green Wave (trailer here), which screens as part of the Premiere section at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

The revolution that nearly was, was not televised in Iran. However, it was recorded on twitter, blogs, and cell phone cameras. Based on the blog entries of real Iranians, Wave gives a voice to those whom the government silenced, telling their stories with animation stylistically similar to that of Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir. Each POV character had previously given up on politics, yet the candidacy of Mir Hossein Mousavi inspired them to reengage with the political process.

Adopting green as their official color, they campaigned with a hopefully fervor reinforced by polls showing a landslide victory for their candidate. Then on Election Day the predictable reports of “irregularities” began, culminating in a government blackout of the media and the inevitable announcement of Ahmadinejad’s dubious re-election. Outraged but empowered, the Green activists took the streets in protest. Wave pulls no punches documenting the brutal suppression that followed.

Yes, in many ways Mousavi is a problematic figure, who had been handpicked by the ruling establishment to serve as Ahmadinejad’s opponent. While his stance towards Israel might not have been appreciably different, he embraced the Green platform of liberalization. He also had the virtue of not holding a messianic complex, unlike his chief rival.

Wave is a well constructed film, integrating strikingly dramatic animation well suited to representing the abject brutality of the Iranian government with eye-witness video shot on handheld devices. As a result, no one watching the film can possibly question whether these abuses really did happen. Further bolstering the case, Ahadi includes some moving testimony from survivors of the government’s orchestrated attacks amongst his talking head interviews. Perhaps the most chilling animated testimony though, comes from a militia man who considers himself most likely damned (in the eternal sense) for his actions in the crackdown.

Wave manages to be both an infuriating and inspiring film. Dedicated to the protestors who were tortured and killed, it expresses hope the spirit of their movement will eventually serve as a catalyst for meaningful reform in Iran. Yet, it is difficult to share that optimism given the atrocities it documents. Socially significant and aesthetically accomplished, Wave is one of the most important films at Sundance. Highly recommended, it screens again during the festival tonight (1/27), tomorrow (1/28), and Saturday (1/29).