Prison film by Narges Mohammadi: Their voices do not fall silent

Narges Mohammadi received the Nobel Peace Prize this year. Her documentary “White Torture” is dedicated to Iran’s political prisoners.

A photo released on October 6 shows Narges Mohammadi at an unknown location in Iran Photo: Narges Mohammadi’s family/WANA/reuters

The rooms in Wing 209 of Tehran’s Evin Prison are bare, whitewashed and small, perhaps 2 x 2 meters, with no furniture. The Iranian regime locks prisoners in solitary confinement here. The prisoners are not allowed to leave their cells for days, weeks and sometimes months – unless they have to undergo one of the countless interrogations. In the end, the torturers have psychologically broken individual prisoners: They confess to crimes they never committed.

At the moment of confession, as one of the protagonists describes it in this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Narges Mohammadi’s documentary, you feel nothing but self-hatred. Her film is called “White Torture”, just like the torture method of solitary confinement. It was filmed in Iran in 2021 under extremely adverse conditions.

Because Mohammadi himself is in custody there. Together with the filmmakers Vahid Zarezadeh and Gelareh Kakavand, she interviewed former prisoners during a break from prison and had them talk about their time behind bars. About the humiliation, the violence and the loneliness.

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The film was shown at the Colosseum Cinema as part of the “Human Rights Film Festival Berlin”, initiated by the journalist and human rights activist Düzen Tekkal. In the conversation, she emphasized the topicality of the topic and paid tribute to Mohammadi, “who was so loud, even though her reference to the world was taken away from her.”

The film is becoming more topical not only because Narges Mohammadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Hamas’ attacks on Israel last week also tell us something about the mullahs’ regime. Because this not only oppresses the Iranian population, it also supports Hamas financially.

The film’s strength does not come from its form; it is the drastic depictions and the production conditions that make it special. “White Torture” reveals the anti-art conditions in the country, which has been governed by theocratic and authoritarian regime since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The camera sometimes has to be hidden when driving through Tehran and the sound is mixed poorly. The film is still thrilling.

“White Torture” reveals the anti-art conditions in the country, which has been governed by theocratic and authoritarian regime since the Islamic Revolution in 1979

The interviews also testify to the long-term consequences of the inhumane treatment. One of those tortured compares solitary confinement to a meat grinder. At the beginning he was human, but at the end he just felt like “human material”. The fact that they talk about torture for the film puts them in danger again: four of the protagonists are in prison again.

Filmmakers are under particular pressure in Iran. Mohammadi’s film also briefly features Jafar Panahi on the streets of Tehran, whose secretly produced film “Taxi Tehran” won at the Berlinale in 2015. He was also arrested in the summer of 2022 and only released in February of this year after a hunger strike. Vahid Zarezadeh, Mohammadi’s co-director, spoke after the screening about how the regime responded to “White Torture.” He was threatened: “You are like a piece of fruit mixed with rotten fruit. Therefore you too will rot.”

Another political prisoner in Evin Prison is Mariam Claren’s mother: Nahid Taghavi is a German-Iranian human rights activist and Mohammadi’s cell neighbor. Claren shared on stage the moment Mohammadi found out she would be receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. She was modest, “the women were happy”.

Your documentation reflects the central slogan of the Iranian freedom movement. A slogan that also sums up the work of the heart-sick Mohammadi: Jin, Jiyan, Azadî. Woman, life, freedom.

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