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Sehaty Foreign Exchange

Documentary

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June 28, 2001
The Iranian

As the site editor for Googoosh.com, I receive a lot of email. One I recently received was from a young filmmaker Farhad Zamani, who had just completed a new documentary film about the life and impact of Googoosh on modern Iranian culture. Intrigued on this take, I called Farhad up and found him to be a fascinating person, passionate and caring and an all around good guy. After watching the film, I was literally in shock. It was an incredible look into our lives, our culture and history. I highly recommend this film which is finally available on video.

Obviously Googoosh was an easy subject to want to cover, but you took a rather unique turn in your exploration. What made you decide to go hat way instead of what was the more obvious one?

Well, to begin, all of my film work prior to this documentary has been rather unconventional in approach. In fact, in the past, film festival organizers have had trouble "categorizing" my work because I don't make genre films. And although this is my first documentary (and first feature-length project), I approached it the same way I approached my fictitious short films.

From the time I was a child, I knew that Googoosh had a fascinating life and it was a story that needed to be told -- the little girl forced to perform at a young age, becomes an icon for a generation, and then is silenced by a theocratic regime, etc. -- but I didn't want it to be a celebrity-puff piece that one practically sees every day on television. That would have been almost too easy to make.

I knew from the start that this would be an art-house film. That I wanted to use Googoosh's incredibly interesting life as a metaphor, as a symbol. And that this symbol, throughout the film, would enable the viewer to locate and identify roots of malaise in Iranian culture (i.e., patriarchy, misogyny, the status of female artists in Iranian society, etc.). And while all of these socio-political issues and elements are present in the film, there is never a doubt that this film is still about Googoosh. We never lose her -- she encompasses the film.

Where did you get all of the amazing footage of Googoosh as a child?

Well, production began on my film in September of 1998 (way before anyone thought Googoosh would stage a comeback) and it took me a little over two years to complete it. In fact, by the time I was ready to start filming the interview portions of my documentary (in 1998), I had viewed over 30 videotapes of films that Googoosh had starred in and already had a pretty good vision of what portions I wanted to use.

So day after day, night after night, I watched films and made notes. Many of the childhood performance footage that you see present in the film is from Googoosh's early film work [i.e., Bim Va Omid/Fear and Hope (1958), Fereshteye Faraari/The Runaway Angel (1959)]. However, never before seen footage was donated to the project by her son Kambiz Ghorbani who, along with his wife Yaghut, were incredibly generous in allowing me into their home (as were all the other interviewees).

How many people were interviewed for your film?

There were a total of 20 people interviewed, each of whom I contacted personally and traveled to meet and film. I have to admit that I was very careful whom to interview . It would have been very easy for me to interview only those who had wonderful things to say about Googoosh because, obviously, she has many fans. However, I was really looking for specific songwriters and lyricists to speak with (i.e., Shahyar Ghanbari, Zoya Zakarian, etc.) as well as particular historians and educators (i.e., Fereydoun Hoveyda, Farzaneh Milani, etc.) who could give insight, not only to who Googoosh was and represented, but who could also recreate the sociopolitical atmosphere in which an artist like Googoosh rose to such popularity.

What was Googoosh's response to your film?

I have sent a copy of this film to her son Kambiz, but I have never been in contact with Googoosh and as you know, she never appears in my film as an interview subject -- just through her performance material. In fact, Googoosh's presence in my film is really a "presence of an absence" which is what I wanted to emphasize. This film began -- as I said -- at a time when she was not speaking to anyone and I never pursued a token appearance from her. My thoughts -- from the start -- were that if she did appear in the film it would have to be on a substantive level. Regardless of that, the reality is that people rarely have insight into their own lives.

Have you shown your film on screen or is it just on video?

This film was making the film festival rounds all of last year. It was part of a touring Canadian festival of Iranian films early last year and was also screened for two nights at the prestigious Gene Siskel Film Center of the Art Institute of Chicago. It will also be screened this July at William Patterson University in New Jersey.

I have to confess that I have always considered myself a "film snob" and I still believe that one can only truly appreciate my film on the big screen. Nonetheless, I cannot deny the kind of reach video can have, so it has been a month that my film has been released onto homevideo. People who are interested are more than welcome to visit the film's official website for more details: GOOGOOSH: Iran's Daughter

Has your film been seen in Iran yet?

I think it is every exiled artist's dream to have their work shown in the country of their ethnic origin, and I am no exception to that. However, I think the subject matter of my film is such that it would be very difficult to have it screened in Iran. But the Iranian black-market being what it is, I am sure that there will be bootlegged copies of my film in Iran (if illegal copies haven't already been made).

Okay, give us a little background on yourself.

I was born in 1971 in Mt. Kisco, New York, and when I was about three or four years old, my parents decided to move me and my sister back to Iran to live. And I lived in Iran from 1974 until the 1979 Revolution forced my family and I to relocate to the United States again. And while I was always involved in different creative endeavors, I'd be lying if I said that I've loved cinema from the time I was a child, because that just isn't the case.

In fact, my interest in film really began much later -- at the university level in the early 90's -- when I was an undergraduate student at Montclair State University in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. It was at Montclair that I was taught film making as an art form (as opposed to commercial film making), and I instantly felt that I had found my niche. From then on I just began seeing better films (as opposed to the conventional American Hollywood film/television that I was so used to consuming growing up in America). I then carried this desire to make films onto Columbia University where I got my Master's Degree in film in 1998.

What do you think the contribution of Googoosh is worth to Iranian culture? Is she important or a mere vessel?

Well, as you know, this is a somewhat hot-button issue that has sparked a lot of debate (esp. on iranian.com). I think that we can look at Googoosh the singer/actress and Googoosh the icon (or myth as Ms. Sabety's piece so interestingly illustrated) as two separate phenomena of Iranian pop culture.

I think Googoosh, as a singer, is remarkable for many reasons but mostly because she was able to flourish and be successful in a misogynist society where female performers were looked down upon. Googoosh, as one of my interviewees Professor Chehabi states, was the first female vocalist to sing and dance on stage and television and be accepted by polite society. She was the first to be imitated by the daughters of the aristocracy, and she was the first to be able to "transgress" social mores and still be loved by various levels of Iranian society.

Now, what Googoosh the icon/myth represents is complicated because so many emotions swirl around this "silent" image. For 20 years we -- her adoring public -- have been projecting our own desires onto her (which is one of the themes in my film), and as we have seen, it is very hard to meet all of this public's expectations.

But finally, I think it is about her voice and her timeless songs. Googoosh has a beautiful voice and people wrote beautiful songs for her. She may not have a technically flawless voice, but it is a voice that has character and charisma.

What kind of music do you like? What are you listening to now, and what is the latest CD you bought (or illegal MP3 you downloaded!)?

Only Googoosh! (just kidding)... I like so many different kinds of music that I'm having trouble answering this question. Let's see... I've been listening to Dido's CD "No Angel" for the past week...it's a narcotic. And I recently "illegally" downloaded Casey Chamber's "The Captain"... but these really don't represent my musical taste, so don't hold it against me. These are just popping into my head at the moment.

What is your favorite Iranian restaurant and what is your favorite dish and why?

My favorite Iranian restaurant? Believe it or not in New York City there aren't that many Iranian restaurants so I'll have to go with Persepolis -- which is the only one I know. And in terms of Iranian food, all I can say is that I am an Iranian at the core and I love Chelokabab hands down!

What are you working on next?

I have been the center of the production of this documentary film for so long that, frankly, I am having trouble seeing the finish line. In fact, I have just recently begun the home video distribution phase of the film. I hope to start some new film project by the beginning of August. We'll see...

What do you think Googoosh should do next to trump her latest World Tour?

I think she should be the master of her own destiny.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment to the filmmaker Farhad Zamani
Comment to the writer Bruce Bahmani

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