An Iranian TV studio in LA. The host, Freydoun Alef, is speaking to the camera while behind him on the large screen we see footages of the earthquake in Bam. Initially, we cannot hear Freydoun, only the cries of victims. After a minute or so, we start hearing Freydoun's voice.
Freydoun: Well, dear friends, I think we could all use a little break. Let's watch a few commercials and when we return we take a few more calls. Oh wait a minute. (He listens and nods) Looks like we have someone calling from Bam and can't wait too long. Let's go to commerical after this. (he presses a button on the phone in front of him). Befarmaeed.
A girl's voice barely audible: Salam. Mr…
Freydoun: Please speak up so that we can hear you better. Where are you calling from?
The Girl: Bam.
The Girl: I lost all my family. My mother and father, my four brothers and sisters. They all died, except me. I… (sound of her cry).
Freydoun: I am very very sorry. Where are you now? What is your name?
The Girl: Fatemeh, but my family calls me Fati. I am at my neighbor's home.
Freydoun: I see, and that home is intact I suppose. I mean, your neighbor's home didn't collapse, must be a new home.
Fati: Baaleh, it is. They are very lucky.
Freydoun: And is the government taking care of the people?
Fati: They give us food and blankets. But they want to take me to another city.
Freydoun: Why? How old are you?
Fati: Fifteen. They say I can only stay with a relative. But I don't have one. All my uncles and aunts died too.
Freydoun: I am very sorry to hear that. What do you like to do?
Fati: I want to stay here, near my own home.
Freydoun: I am curious. Is there cable TV in the house? I mean, how did you get this telephone number?
Freydoun: Tell me Fati. Is there anything we, I mean the Iranians in America or outside Iran, can do for you?
Fati: Yes. Please tell government to let me stay. I beg you to help me. I don't want to leave. (the line goes dead).
Freydoun: We lost her. (He shakes his head) I hope she calls back. It is so sad, I don't know how to describe my sadness (holds back the tears). Let's go to commercial.
A few days or few weeks later. Freydoun is doing his show with a famous actress facing him. They are chatting gingerly, although we cannot hear them, only the music. Suddenly Freydoun looks in another direction and asks a question and then pauses and then addresses his guest.
Freydoun: I was just told that we have another call from Bam, from a girl that called a few days ago. (He presses the button). Salam, Fati khanoom, is that you?
Fati: Yes Mr. Alef, it is me.
Freydoun: I am very happy you called again. I have been thinking about you and wondering how you are doing?
Fati: Merci. (sneezes) I have a bad cold.
Freydoun: I am sorry to hear that. Are you still in Bam?
Fati: Yes, my neighbor convinced them to let me stay. He is a very nice person.
Freydoun: Oh I see. And are you well taken care of? How many other children are in that house?
Fati: First, it was me. You see the agha here has three grown up children and they are all married. But now there is two of us, me and another girl who also lost her whole family. She is thirteen. Oh I have to go (we hear a man's voice shouting “Who are you talking to? Put down the phone.” The phone then goes silent).
Freydoun (shaking his head): That is, well, rather strange.
The actress: Poor thing. I feel so bad for her. Sounded like she was afraid to talk.
Freydoun: She is probably one of over a few thousand teenage girls who are orphans, and I really hope they are looked after. All right, let's get back to my question: So you didn't like that racial slur about Arabs in the movie, ha?
The actress: No, not at all, Iranians are not racist, but this made us look like we are. That was definitely a put off with an otherwise intelligent movie.
Freydoun: So what is next for you? Are you still planning to leave us to Rome?
The actress: Yes, I want some freedom from all the smog here, the smog of people around here I mean. It gets to be too much sometimes, no disrespect to our great community, but you know there is too much gossip, too much interference in private lives. I don't know, I am just pure bored perhaps.
Freydoun: I hear you. Well, I wish you the best and we will all certainly miss you (gets up and hugs and kisses her on the cheek and then she leaves). Okay let's hear one more song from our guest musicians and when after that we will talk to the Iranian twins who are swimming champions and plan to swim the width of Caspian Sea, each from the opposite side, and meet in the middle.
The same TV studio, empty. Images of Bam parade on the screen in the background. We hear Freydoun's voice.
Freydoun: Just hold on a minute. Can you? I will talk to you as soon as we get on the air. What? Say that again? Why? He has no right to do that. Listen. No one has the right to hit you, especially a neighbor, and you have to get help from the people. What? How can he forbid you to go outside, that is definitely not right. I really want to speak with him. What is your telephone number. Please don't be afraid. I promise. Hold on. Let me get a pen and piece of paper. Okay, go ahead. Five. Twenty two, zero, four. That is all. That doesn't seem like enough numbers, are you sure. Look again. Okay, okay, listen, I will try to call you in a few minutes but I have to go on air now. Just stay strong. Good bye.
The stage is partitioned. On the one side is the TV studio and Freydoun is talking on the phone. On the other side is the same movie actress, also on the phone, while resting on a couch and watching a sitcom. Her name is Setareh.
Freydoun: So that is the scoop.
Setareh: That is awful. Did you say the police can't find her home.
Freydoun: No, as I said we 've gone through our own contacts in the area and the Iranian officials at the UN and the Red Cross, and after two weeks we haven't got a clue where she lives, or lived.
Setareh: No last name, nothing.
Freydoun: Nothing except that her name is Fati or Fatemeh. First she called to complain that he was beating them and not letting them go out, and then she called and in so many words suggested that he was, you know, sexually abusing both girls, and then the last time she called she said he had taken her to a brothel in Kerman and because she was resisting he and another lady who ran the place were beating her and starving her. I have no idea how she managed to make that call, which lasted may be thirty seconds and she was in full tears. She called in the middle of my program and it totally shocked the viewers. So many people called, even from Iran, and offered to help finding her, one was, curiously enough, a city police officer in Kerman.
Setareh: That is funny. Isn't it illegal to have the satellite dishes in Iran?
Freydoun: I suppose it is one of those laws that is not strictly implemented, especially now that the government needs the expetriates' help with the earthquake.
Satareh: How big is Kerman? I mean if the police and the army and all the secret service they have down there put their mind to it I am sure they can find her.
Freydoun: If. Don't forget they have their hands full with some seventy thousand wounded and displaced, a lot of them children and young kids.
Setareh: I wish I could adopt one. I really do. Hey listen, I have an idea. Why don't we go to Kerman and find Fati. We could make a perfect detective team.
Freydoun: Right, in the midst of all that chaos.
Setareh: I've got an influential friend here, who works for the embassy. You want me to ask?
Freydoun: Sure. Ask. If they say okay, I will go. I would love to go.
Setareh: No you wouldn't.
Freydoun: No, seriously, I would, absolutely.
Setareh: Still a crazy fool for action after all these years, ha? If you're serious then let me get back with you in a day or so. Ciao.
A ruined section of Bam. A sign in Farsi and English reads: Welcome to Bam, Jewel of Silk Road. Wrapped and half-wrapped corpses. Setareh is searching frantically through the rubbles. A young man is trying to hold her back.
Setareh: No, let me go, let me die with them.
The man: But who are you looking for? You don't live here.
Setareh: No, I do now, I do now. Here is my home, there are my parents, my children, my aunts and uncles. I want to die with them. (She pulls a rock to the side and shrieks). There is my missing Fati! (lights out, silence for a moment. We hear the telephone ring and then Freydoun's voice).
Setareh: Salam Frey, it's me.
Freydoun: What is the matter? Are you alright? Anything happened?
Setareh: I just woke up, I had a terrible nightmare, but one that woke me up, you know, to who I am, what I want. Listen, about the trip. I talked to them yesterday and it is all set. You haven't changed your mind, have you?
Freydoun: No, of course not. But I can't leave until after the third, have to tape the show on Sunday.
Setareh: In that case, I will go ahead of you and we meet in Bam. We have to stay in a tent. I hear it is very cold but they say the tents are warm.
Freydoun: I sure hope so. I checked and it was minus five yesterday. I guess I have to dig out my ski jacket.
Setareh: See you in Iran then.
Freydoun: Have a safe trip.
Setareh: You too.
Freydoun at his chair in the TV studio, reading a letter to himself, then raises his head and faces the audience.
Freydoun: Doostan-e aziz, as I said I just received this fax which is a letter from Setareh and with your permission I want to read that to you. (Starts reading) Freydoun-e aziz, ba salam, it is now ten days since I arrived here and I apologize for not keeping my promise of calling you. This way you don't have to put up with my constant tears and inaudible voice, like the last time. There is something sobering about writing, another new experience for me.
You and your viewers undoubtedly want me to report to you about the situation here and I just don't want to do that. I didn't come here to report, my mission was specific and I want to keep it that way. Besides, I doubt there is anything going on here that all of you in America don't know, except the stench of death perhaps permeating every where, it's a special odor that simply doesn't go away, despite the recent rain and the desert wind, it stubbornly resists as if to remind us that death haunts life without a breath of pause.
The first couple of days I had a guide from the Guidance Ministry (Vezarat-e ershad) who gave me a tour of the city, what is left of it, the refugee camps, the hospitals and the orphanages. She also introduced me to the governor who promised to help us find Fati. Poor man, he has lost so many relatives himself, there is not a living soul who hasn't. My guide is gone now and I am on my own staying at an Iranian Red Cross tent, helping the social workers dealing with the traumatized children and young kids for the most part. Every day, they bring some of these kids who are placed in orphanages in other cities in cars or mini vans, just to go and visit their homes and neighborhoods to see for themselves that it is all gone, that there is no home to go back to. It is without doubt one of the most wrenching experiences of my life, to see those innocent faces, their disbelief. One of them, a six year old boy, in the midst of his sadness, was so incredibly happy to find his cat. He just jumped out from underneath the rubbles into his arms, poor thing, and we all reacted as if some miracle has happened and another person has been found alive. The tragedy here is so massive, in such scale of disproportionate monstrosity, that uses any palliative soother.
Yesterday, I was in Kerman and with the driver I have hired we searched for hours looking for Fati, but so far have found no clues as to her whereabouts. I sent the driver to a couple of notorious places and he came back and said that there are a few teenage girls but none whose name is Fati. Who knows, may be she has changed her name, may be they have taken her to another town. The prostitution rings I hear are very well organized and sent girls even across the Persian Gulf to Bahrain, Dubai and so on. But the situation here for the orphan young girls is very very desperate, there are at least several hundreds of them who have no one to take care of them, and since they are not quite children any more, the government does not really pay them the same attention as the children, whom they consider as first priority. We must do something for them.
Any ways, I will try to call you soon. God bless, Setareh. (Freydoun stops reading and drinks some water and then presses a button). Salam, befarmaeed.
A Male Caller: Salam.
Freydoun: Salam. Please go ahead.
A Male Caller: I was very moved by that letter. I want to thank you and Setareh for all that you have done for us and wish you good luck in finding Fati. My wife and I are praying for her day and night.
Freydoun: Thank you very much. As I said before, I was supposed to go with her to Bam but it turns out that my passport has expired and it takes a few weeks to renew it. Hopefully by then our quest to find Fati is fruitful. (He presses the button and faces the audience) Well, dear friends, we have now reached the end of our program for this week and until next week God be with you. (Stage goes dark and we hear a song by Googoosh).
An outdoor, makeshift cinema in Bam showing a Western movie. The audience in the theater is conceived as the ones in attendance. Setareh is sitting right below the screen as if to give the impression of a cramped audience. The film ends and then she stands and faces the audience.
Setareh: Wasn't that a terrific movie?
A Boy actor placed with the audience: Yes. I want to see that again.
Setareh: I am afraid it is too late now and the crew have to pack the equipment.
An Adult Male: Khanoom. Can we see the movie Earthquake please? You know the one with Charelton Heston.
Setareh: Well, I don't know. I doubt they have that film. I will ask them. But why? Why do you want to see that movie?
Adult Male: No reason. I just wanted to know who has had a worse earthquake. The Americans who came here right after the earthquake said theirs was worse. But I bet we had a stronger one. (the audience concurs).
Setareh: I don't about that. Good night now. (Two males remove the screen and the chairs and leave. Setareh goes inside the tent in the back and we barely see her changing her clothes. A young man enters the stage and calls her name. Her head protudes out the tent, covering the rest of her body.
Setareh: Is that you Abbas?
Abbas: Yes. I just wanted to know… (He steps closer and looks at her face meaningfully).
Setareh: Yes?! (He steps closer)
Abbas: If I could kiss you? (She is startled and her fleeting indecision is preempted by Abbas who leans over and kisses her and then goes inside the tent. Lights out).
Freydoun's voice on his message recorder: Salam. Please leave me a message and I will call you back god willing. (the beep).
Setareh's voice: Hi, it's me. Look. Something has happened. Between the two of us, I 've caused a little scandal and was asked to leave the camp. I am now at a hotel in Kerman and am having the auditioning for the film. You were right. A lot of people are smelling money and are coming forward with their girls. I just hope Fati is one of them…(the beep again indicating the end of recording).
Setareh is sitting behind a table and speaking to a woman and her daughter. Abbas is inspecting the video camera on a corner. Setareh signals him to prepare to shoot. The mother sits at a corner and the girl starts reading from the note in her hand acting simultaneously. We cannot hear her or any one else. Suddenly we hear Freydoun's voice.
Freydoun's voice: Look Setareh. I suggest you pack and leave immediately. Just got a call from a high placed friend who told me all about your late night escapades. He says you're lucky they didn't throw you in jail. I now regret this whole obsession and think it was a bad idea in the first place. I am worried about you and am afraid that it will backfire not just against you but also me and the whole network particularly, if God forbid, the news of your affair gets out somehow. Knowing how stubborn you are, I know you are not going to listen to me, so for God's sake be careful.
(The girl stops acting and Setareh stands and thanks her and her mother who then exit the stage).
Setareh (To Abbas): Any one else? God I am so tired.
Abbas (after opening and looking out a door closes it): No, that's all for today. (He approaches Setareh and she repells him).
Setareh: No, not now please. I am very tired. (Points at a letter). Freydoun sent me a fax today. He wants me to leave. He says it is not safe for me any more. Calls it obsession now.
Abbas: Obsession? But you know that is nonsense. You were, are, committed to finding Fati, am I right?
Setareh: Yes, no. I don't know. I am confused (turns her back to the audience). You just say that because you want me to stay.
Abbas: Of course I do, but not at the price of convincing you with lies. I mean what I say and you shouldn't confuse issues either. You either want to find Fati at any price, or you don't, it's that simple.
Setareh: But how? And how long? It's over two months now and we 've interviewed how many people so far, how many pimps and mafia and drug dealers have we talked to? Have we missed any one? People here are beginning to think that I am whore from farang making excuses to lure young men. How ridiculous is that! (She throws herself in his arms and he caresses her hair).
Abbas: Setareh. My love. Stop tormenting yourself. You came here to find a little girl in trouble, in this vast ocean of tragedy and we saw each other instead. Tell me. Do you love me?
Setareh: Abbas jon, you know I do. With all my heart I love you.
Abbas: Then stop tormenting yourself, and take it as your destiny.
Setareh (moves away and after a deep breath): I am sorry, I can't. You need to know me better. When I put my mind to something I have to finish it. So, after tomorrow's auditionings, if we couldn't find her I will leave.
Abbas: Just like that. And what about us?
Setareh: You will come to Rome as we planned. I promise I will get you there and get you the visa and everything, but please never ask me to marry you because that would be the end of our love, I am sure of that. (A knock on the door and they both turn their faces. Abbas approaches the door and opens hesitantly).
A Girl's voice: You are looking for Fati?
Girl's voice: I am Fati. (Abbas looks back at Setareh who is frozen at her spot. They give each other a meaningful stare).
Setareh: Well, what are you waiting for, ask her to come in?
Abbas: Please. Don't be shy. Come in. (Lights out).