Kiwi from Iran makes 'home video'

By Andre Hueber

A return to her homeland for the first time in 17 years made Ghazaleh Golbakhsh realise she was more Kiwi than she thought.

The Auckland University film student returned to her native Iran in September to make a personal documentary on what home really means.

"I was putting Iran up on a pedestal but it turned out to be a myth - I thought I'd find more of a connection."

Ghazaleh, 30, emigrated to New Zealand in 1987 as Iran came under a new regime and Saddam Hussein began  launching missiles. The  6-year-old's  family settled in Glen Innes.

"I remember thinking how unusual it was that there were no sandbags at schools and marvelling at another kid eating a mince pie. But I remember it being difficult, too, because I didn't speak any English and people weren't always that understanding."

Ghazaleh says she just wanted to fit in but eventually realised it was cool to know a second language and be different.

Her film, Iran in Transit, shot for her Masters in Screen Production, was  supervised by one of this country's most awarded documentarians, Annie Goldson.

"I just wanted to know if I would feel anything going back - but I didn't.

I didn't feel like I was home. I have a much greater appreciation of my Kiwi side now. I was always at war with my identity and now I'm more at peace with it."

She says she experienced culture shock  the first few days - forced to wear a hijab and forbidden to drink alcohol - although it was fascinating to hear everyone speaking a language she  speaks only at home. She was able to film in places not usually accessible  using a discreet  camera to film underground Iran.

"I hope the film shows a different side of Iran. There's a lot that people don't know about the country."

She says Iran is still third world, but also a place of extremes. "I went to the Kurdish region  where people still live in mud huts and it's very traditional. But in Tehran it's quite affluent."

Iran was "kind of fascist" with three different types of police enforcing the law. "You are constantly aware that if you dress or do the wrong thing you can be swiftly punished, but you adjust to that way of living pretty quickly."

For every person  who liked the regime, five others hated it, Ghazaleh says, noting that  some people openly flouted rules, adamant they would live their lives the way they chose.

"Ironically, whatever is repressed is shown in excess. For example, mixed gatherings are not allowed but I came across big parties where people went all out with drinks and food."

She describes the law in Iran as "arbitrary" and claims people often bribe their way out of trouble.

"It's nothing to do with Islam, it's a way to limit personal freedom. It's a way of confining people and restricting them."

Part of the documentary involved going to San Francisco to interview relatives who had also emigrated, to compare their experiences of what home meant. Ghazaleh's cousin calls Iran her homeland but would never live there, she says.

"It was important for her to be seen as Iranian first and American second."

The trip made her realise Americans are more likely to associate Iranians with fundamentalists than New Zealanders are. Ghazaleh will be amongst those Americans next year when she heads to the US on a Fulbright scholarship, to study at the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California.

Next year will also see her film's official release, and the film-maker, who is more accustomed to drama than  documentary,  will be interested to see the response because "it was a challenge to shift gears".

"But it's still story-telling, using cinema as a platform."


- The Aucklander

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