Friday, April 29, 2016

Hot Docs ’16: Raving Iran

According to the Islamist Iranian government, Anoosh and Arash play “satanic” music. In their case, this means techno-house, but it could refer to any form of music that is not traditional Persian or classical piano. That necessarily makes the duo known professionally as Blade & Beard outlaws in their own country. Eventually, they will have to choose between their home and their passion in Susanne Regina Meures’s Raving Iran (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Hot Docs in Toronto.

The double meaning of Meures’ title is inescapably spot-on accurate. As they try to build their careers in Tehran’s ultra-underground rave scene, Anoosh and Arash constantly ask has nothing changed under Rouhani, the purported “liberal.” Sadly, the answer is always a resounding no. From the DJs perspective, if the Islamist regulation of music and culture has changed at all, it has become more intrusive and arbitrary.

In what amounts to a Sisyphean mock epic, Anoosh and Arash visit a series of printers and media stores, hoping to get their album covers printed and possibly secure distribution for their newest CD. Time and again, the proprietors tell them they are under government surveillance. Several believe their phones are tapped. One store owner tells the duo he was recently arrested for selling a heavy metal CD that had been duly approved by the state, only to have the sanction revoked retroactively, with no public notice.

One of the intrepid DJs is even briefly arrested, but fortunately he is not blackballed from traveling to Switzerland for an electronic music festival. There Blade & Beard can actually enjoy an alcoholic beverage in public, while they listen to new music at its most unruly. They definitely make the most of their days abroad, but a critical decision looms.

Throughout Raving, there are a number of grey dots obscuring the faces of those enjoying the Iranian techno scene and most of the closing credits for the Iranian shoot are billed as “anonymous.” Obviously, Meures went to considerable lengths to protect the innocent, as any rational humanist would see them. Still, we have to wonder how Meures secured some of the early footage of Anoosh and Arash beating their heads against a wall of censorship. Some of it is truly mind-blowing, like their visit to the government office that authorizes (or more likely denies) licenses for public performances.

You cannot hold any illusions about the state of intellectual and artistic freedom in Iran while watching Raving. (Quick, let’s make this regime a nuclear power.) On the other hand, it fully addresses the wrenching emotional decisions involved in asylum-seeking. It is an extraordinarily brave and honest documentary that also features plenty of real deal techno. Very highly recommended, Raving Iran screens this Sunday (5/1), Tuesday (5/3), and next Saturday (5/7), as part of Hot Docs ’16.