Neda Sarmast

Neda Sarmast, an Iranian-American documentary filmmaker, is heading up the mission of fostering global youth dialogue with Nobody’s Enemy. Her personal experience growing up as an Iranian-American, combined with her extensive background in music and entertainment, and an ability to bring a message to the masses through the arts, led her to film, in hopes of forging cross-cultural bonds that may bridge the gap between East and West. Nobody’s Enemy, slated for release this year, examines the lives, voices and hopes of Iran’s youth—their social and cultural growth in a time of turmoil.

What motivated you to become a filmmaker?
I didn’t start out as a filmmaker who was looking for a subject to cover. I had a message that I wanted to share and chose film to get it out there. Remembering the US-IRAN conflict after 1979 and fearing another conflict on the rise was the motivation for me to get into action. The Iran and the Iranians that I knew, and what was shown in the media, were not always the same. Many Americans would ask me, “Why do the Iranians hate us?” Although many had problems with the US foreign policy towards them, in fact, they don’t hate Americans at all. I thought, I could tell you about the Iranians and my culture, but perhaps it would make a greater impact if I could show you who they are and let them speak for themselves—to humanize the culture that I thought was being dehumanized in the media today. I chose to counter the negative images from the mainstream media with my own media.

What is it like being a female filmmaker in Iran?
I personally didn’t experience many problems being a woman filming in Iran. Looking back now, maybe it helped in some ways, because as a woman, the gentle approach I had with the people I filmed, they saw my passion and love for my birth country. Realizing that I didn’t have a political agenda in mind, but rather, the desire to utilize my film as a form of cultural exchange, opened the doors for us to get to know each other more.

What do you try to communicate through your films?
I started by looking at what it was that I was NOT interested in covering—reiterating what was already on the news, playing a part in creating more separation and fear among people. Bigger-budgeted network teams and talking heads are already doing plenty of that. Some have asked if I was concerned that, by showing a positive view of Iran, I am turning a blind eye on the problems within the country.  The answer is no, because the generation I covered deserve to be viewed in a way that would counterbalance the image that many have of them.

Tell us about Nobody’s Enemy.
I knew that I wanted to focus on the youth culture of Iran. 70% of the population (70 million) are under the age of 30. They are the future of that country, and no one really was focusing on them and what they have to say. I chose to cover the more modern and popular culture that gave a glimpse into both the current and future Iran.  The majority are a great combination of modern and intellectual people, who are very aware and wise to the cultures outside their own, as well as a very proud generation, deeply rooted to their rich and ancient history. The people and youth of Iran have a lot to offer to the world and they deserve to be seen and heard. My message is a simple one—to show that, in the end, our two cultures have much more in common than in conflict, and that the people of Iran are–as the film says—Nobody’s Enemy.

What has the reaction been?
Well as I write this today, my film is still not finished, but will be within weeks. The Iranian youths that have so far seen the film are happy and proud at how they have been shown in my film. The US viewers, based on the few private screenings that I have had, were really touched by the human stories within the film, and many were surprised that it wasn’t the Iran they thought they knew and shifted their views for the better after watching.  It was also something easy and familiar to watch as I covered everything from the presidential elections to the underground music scene in Tehran that introduced me to an expanding phenomenon Persian hip hop—my new favorite genre of music!

As a filmmaker, what inspires you?
People and their stories inspire me.  When I see that there are more like-minded people out there, that I am not alone, and we are all becoming a big team of individuals helping each other out, I get excited at what lies ahead for us all. So many people… so many stories… and, in the end, we are all the same.

-Sarah Kang

Reading by Lena, who has no idea this palm belongs to Neda Sarmast.

1. Fond of the beauty in material objects perceived by all the senses. An autumn leaf, a beautifully cut and set jewel, the scent of spring, all hold equal value.

2. Not at all interested in becoming famous—simply wants to be heard.

3. Their philosophy appears to be one of wishing to add beauty to this world and to thoroughly enjoy the beauty that is already there.

4. Wildly imaginative—a vast dreamer. Their talent is to show/create/tell their dreams in such a way that others can see them as well.

5. A great traveler in the byways rather than the highways of this world; enjoys detours & chance encounters with random bits of beauty.

6. A bit of a temper when thwarted—fortunately, this person is very hard to thwart. You can set up obstacles in their path, but they will simply slide around them.

7. Eminently civilized; has excellent manners—both table and social manners (this also assists in avoiding conflict).