Filmmaker: Ayat Najafi
Country of Production: France/Germany/Iran
Language(s): In English, Farsi and French with English subtitles
No Land’s Song, a documentary directed by Ayat Najafi, took me on an emotional and fascinating journey into one of the more underrated struggles of Iranian women. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, women have been forbidden to sing in public. The film follows Iranian composer Sara Najafi in her mission to organize an illegal concert featuring female solo performers. Sara bravely dives into her quest, reaching out to European musicians and recruiting supporters for her musical project. She also goes deeply into the history of the taboo, questioning orthodox religious leaders as well as women who were affected by the passing of the law. Of course she gets her fair share of problems too; continuous discouragement from the government, lack of support, and lots of hard decisions make it apparent that Sara was making a big statement on forbidden territory. But the determination, strength, and love behind Sara’s project is impenetrable, and stops at nothing to liberate the female voice in Iran.
Ayat Najafi skillfully captured so much emotion in this film. Every moment seemed so significant: the somber stories of old women who would cry in the middle of the night because they couldn’t sing, the tense encounters with clerics, the late night rehearsals the group had together, the long distance skype calls, the singing in the kitchen while making dinner, and much more. I was pleasantly surprised with how well the film tracked the ups and downs of Sara’s journey without using too much external explanation at all. I also really enjoyed how Najafi was able to feature all of the group’s music and their inspirations within the film in a way that worked really well and added to the connection with the viewer. Speaking of that connection, I think that the reason why this film was so impactful to me is because of my role as a young female musician. I never realized how much I took my own voice for granted. Music and performing are my self-expression, my creativity, my outlet, and my identity. I cannot imagine how life would be if I were stripped from all of it. I respect Sara and all those who are standing up for the Iranian woman’s right to sing, and I am inspired by their fortitude and passion.
There are a number of points of views being portrayed through this film. Not only does the film portray the perspective of the Iranian women, but also the perspective of the European allies who are part of the project, and the government/religious leaders opposed to it. One of the scenes where the perspectives clashed head on was when Sara went to visit an Iranian cleric to ask him about the policies passed after the revolution. Sara sat in a room the man, straight posture and wearing a black chador, a contrast from her attire in the rest of the film (either just a hijab or nothing at all). Using carefully crafted phrases as to avoid a tone of disrespect for the man, she asks him the reasoning behind the anti-singing policy for women. He explains that the reason that women are not allowed to sing goes back to very orthodox values. It was said that God created the voice of the women to be in a different wavelength/frequency, one that should not be heard in public because it is too arousing for men. It is improper for men to be distracted/aroused in public, and the female voice was created to trigger such things.
Obviously the perspective of the cleric contradicts the point of the film, but it is there to provide context about the type of people and the reasoning that Sara is opposing. Sara and other women do not believe in the reasoning the cleric provided, or at least they think that it is outdated. Sara later talks greatly about one of her idols, Qamar, a female Iranian singer of the ‘50s who was known for performing without a hijab. Women like Qamar and other singers before 1979 had great influence on Iranian women and youth, inspiring many women to perform music as an outlet, empowering force, and source of entertainment and connection. The revolution stripped women of that one very valuable aspect of their lives, and banned the ability to even purchase music with female singers. Despite the very apparent difference in ideals and the restrictions for women within Iran, the liberation movement never faltered under the pressure of those trying to bring it down. Not only did Sara make history, but she opened the doors for generations of Iranian women to come.
This sketch I made is inspired by one of the scenes in the film where an older Iranian woman talks about how the passing of this law in 1979 changed everything for her. Singing was her passion, and she talks about how she would often wake up in the middle of the night and cry because she couldn’t sing.
MY CAAM FEST EXPERIENCE:
This was my first time attending CAAM fest and I’m really glad that I got to go this year. I saw No Land’s Song at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in the SF Mission District. The theater was really cool and made the viewing experience very enjoyable. In the lobby CAAM fest set up some booths to advertise different projects/events/movements linked to the fest, making it easy to learn more about.