File spoon-archives/postcolonial.archive/postcolonial_2002/postcolonial.0207, message 48

Subject: =?Windows-1252?Q?=93Prize-winning_film-maker_at_The_National_Film_Board_o?=
Date: Fri, 26 Jul 2002 09:20:23 -0700

26 July 2002

“Prize-winning film-maker at The National Film Board of Canada”

a film review by Julian Samuel

Masoud Raouf  “The Tree That Remembers,”
50 minutes, 19 seconds; The National Film Board of Canada, 2002.

 Canadian-Iranian Filmmaker Masoud Raouf’s “The Tree That Remembers” offers
proof that NFB executive producer Sally Bochner is fully committed to
allowing “visible minorities” to make documentaries. This film won the
Silver Award for Best Canadian Documentary at Hot Docs, and Gold Award at

 Raouf’s effort consists of interviews with Iranian exiles who were
imprisoned, tortured, and who now live in Canada. The film is filled with
wall-to-wall interviewees who cry. Their suffering, which is supposed to
touch us on a personal level, is shown without sustained political or
historical analysis except for one or two sentences which offer the most
craven criticism of Canada. What’s the point of showing us tears without
exploring the international complicity (and the silence of the corporate
mass media) which has partially contributed to the enormous suffering of
Iranians? The film does not expose how western governments (including ours)
silently sell profit-making instruments of repression to Iran; the Canadian
arms industry is never mentioned, the tears flow endlessly.

 In a “globalizing” world the following questions are more relevant than
ever: Did our country, Canada, support Savak and the Shah? Internationally,
was Canada sufficiently vocal in criticizing Iran? What were or are Canada’s
links with current Iranian regimes? Do the NFB bosses control the content of
this film? These questions, ignored by the director, are relevant when
discussing Iranian suffering past and present.

 “The Tree That Remembers” hasn’t a central thesis or focus. A suicide is
tacked at the beginning and at the end for perfunctory continuity. Moreover,
the camera work is boringly traditional and the editing transpires without a
single international interconnection, and the comatose animation sections
are inserted into the film to stay the charge of “talking heads” rather than
enrich the work.

 Years ago, even our gigantically pro-Israeli CBC set the suffering of the
people of Iran in an almost-analytical context (Canadian sales of weapons
were not exposed, of course). Other film-makers have tackled the same
subject with more rigour. Rufia Pooya’s 1980 film “In Defense of People”
elegantly exposed American support for the Shah’s violence. Raouf should
have studied Pooya’s work before making something that is much worse that
the average CBC documentary on Iran.

 By not exposing Canada’s role in supporting Iranian dictatorships,
sentimental films such as “The Tree that Remembers” actually perpetuate the
suffering of Iranian people; their suffering is presented as something out
there in the far away blue yonder, as something not connected to Canada.
Their suffering is very much connected to what Canada does in terms of trade
relations and foreign policy. This film does a profound disservice to the
people who were and who are currently being brutalized; it tries to be
poetic rather than expose arms trade deals and bankrupt foreign policy. I am
confident that Canadians would pressure their elected politicians to change
things if they were given rational information on how Canada, in its own
small way, contributes to the suffering.

Julian Samuel

Film-maker and writer Julian Samuel, has made a four- hour documentary on
Orientalism and has published a novel, Passage to Lahore (De Lahore à
Montréal). You may contact him at


NFB information on the film:

Iranian Filmmaker Masoud Raouf Reflects on Oppression and Freedom

In 1992 a young Iranian student hanged himself from a tree on the outskirts
of a small Ontario town. He had escaped the Ayatollahs’ regime and found
refuge in Canada. Why did he take his own life?

The death hit home with his fellow countryman Masoud Raouf. He too was part
of the generation who opposed the Shah’s despotic rule — only to be cruelly
persecuted by the new regime.

The National Film Board Documentary The Tree that Remembers is Raouf’s
reflection on the betrayal of the 1979 Iranian revolution and the tenacity
of the human spirit. The film gets its broadcast debut on TVO’s The View
>From Here at 10:00 pm, Wednesday, May 22, following its world premiere at
Toronto’s Hot Docs Festival.

Raouf assembles a group of Iranian exiles in Canada— all former political
prisoners like himself who were active in the democratic movement.
Shekoufeh, petite and soft-spoken, was confined for months in a coffin-like
box. Reza, now a professor of economics, wrote about his imprisonment in
Weeping Tulips. Firouzeh was separated from her family for years, following
a 10-minute trial before a group of fundamentalist clerics.

Blending their testimony with historical footage and original artwork, Raouf
honours the memory of the dead and celebrates the resilience of the living.

Framing these accounts are scenes from Iran’s recent past. The cruel irony
of history is startling in 1979 footage of International Women’s Day, where
enthusiastic crowds of women take to the streets of Tehran, walking
arm-in-arm towards a better tomorrow. Having helped defeat the brutal regime
that had come to power in the 1953 CIA-backed coup, they are buoyant with
hope. How could they foresee the dark age about to engulf them?

Throughout Raouf uses his own animated artwork to create an imagined
sanctuary, shimmering Fauvist landscapes which offer luminous release from
hardship and inhumanity. While anchored in a specific history, The Tree that
Remembers reflects on oppression and survival, pouring light into a sombre
universe and finding unexpected fragments of hope.

The Tree that Remembers was written and directed by Masoud Raouf and
produced by the National Film Board of Canada. Sally Bochner is executive
producer and Ravida Din is associate producer.

– 30 –

Pat Dillon, NFB  Rosanne Meandro, TVO
Telephone: (514) 283-9411 Telephone: (416) 484-2600, ex. 2389
Fax: (514) 496-2573 Fax: (416) 484-6285

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