For Her

By Colombe Tricaud

Over a year ago on September 16th 2022, Mahsa “Jinah” Amini lost her life to the Iranian “morality police,” for being “improperly veiled.” This death, far from the first of unjust and arbitrary police killings, sparked a flame of unrest against the Ayatollah’s regime, along with the creation of the movement Women. Life. Freedom.

After Amini’s death, demonstrations in Iran included heavy protesting, women burning their hijabs or student riots, despite heavy repression operated by the regime. The international community showed unprecedented support to Iranians and the intensity and frequency of protests only calmed down around December – without ever totally coming to a stop. Protests continued in pockets of the country, or turned into strikes, publications and declarations from human rights groups, while the international community continuously condemned the Islamic Republic and sanctioned government officials repeatedly. As the anniversary of the beginning of the movement approached in September, protests have picked back up, and the Regime shows its insecurity by striking down and intimidating people. 

In spite of the risks associated with speaking up, artists have risen up and utilized their skills to challenge the regime, support the movement, and make the world see Iran.

I spoke with one of the voices of the Iranian diaspora, Lilinaz Hakimi, who directed and starred in her first film, For Her (For My Sisters,” under its Iranian name), which premiered on September 19th in New York. For Her derives its Iranian name from Iranian poetess Forough Farrokhzad’s piece To My Sisters (1965). In its original form, the poem is a feminist call to action, and Hakimi amplifies its message to make the voice of Iranian activists resonate within the audience. 

The film is about the story of Mahnaz, an Iranian girl living in New York at the time of the Mahsa Amini protests. The protagonist faces an internal conflict as she fights the regime from the United States but feels like she should be in the streets of Iran. This internal conflict reflects the external challenges she faces in her immediate environment, including a lack of resources to support her activism. 

As Mahnaz does her best to be a voice for the revolution, she builds a relationship with Roshan, a girl who still lives in Iran, and participates actively in the protests. Roshan appears to Mahnaz, voices the latter’s guilt, reassures, and guides her impact in the revolution.

Colombe: Lilinaz, as a young Iranian woman, who has lived half of her life in Iran and the other half in the United States, why did you decide to make your début in cinema with For Her?

Lilinaz: I had the idea to make a short-film about the revolution in October last year, shortly after Jinah’s death. Her assassination sparked so much action in Iran that I felt powerless. But art, acting and film are my primary forms of expression and that looked like the way for me to be a part of and amplify the movement. I felt a duty towards those who stayed in Iran, especially when it is girls my age being killed – simply for existing and trying to be free. 

At first I wanted to make a 5 to 10 minute short[-film], I wanted to make it now, to get people to talk about Iran and think about the movement. But as I thought about what meaning I wanted to push forward, I figured I wanted to portray women within the country and in the diaspora, and by trying to achieve that creatively, it turned into a 30 minute then 55 minute film.

Colombe:  I’ve followed your activism for over a year now, and you are about to inspire many others with For Her. Who are your inspirations in the revolution, and who are you trying to inspire? 

Lilinaz: Women. Life. Freedom. is inspired by so many people. Not only Mahsa Amini, Nika Shahkarami, Sarina Esmaeilzadeh, or even Neda who was killed in the 2009 Green Revolution, but so many other names and faces inspire me, like the actress Golshifteh Farahani, who decided to take risks and defend women’s rights in Iran. I know that because I chose to be vocal about my discontent I am taking those same risks, but I had to make this film for the women and girls in Iran who deserve a life like the one I was able to live. 

I chose to use and celebrate the poem To My Sisters because it speaks to the women of Iran, the people of Iran, to you, to all of us. It captures the essence of Roshan, and is the strong call to action that I wanted to communicate to the viewer. 

Colombe: Is that why you decided to make the film almost entirely in Farsi ? 

Lilinaz: The film depicts a girl who would have been raised by an Iranian family in an English speaking country. So Mahnaz often mixes the languages, but yes, she relies on Farsi in her interactions with Roshan. This film is for and to the people of Iran. I wanted the film to be realistic, to make it authentic and grounded in being Iranian. 

Colombe: It’s been a year since Mahsa Amini lost her life to the regime. How do you feel the revolution has evolved and how does For Her fit into these changes?

Lilinaz: Over the year the revolution has continued to evolve and change. Overtime as the government struck down on the protesters, fear grew and protests sometimes became strikes or other forms of daily contestation. Activism continues on a more micro level, but protests are starting up again.

The fact that For Her is premiered around the anniversary of Amini’s death was unexpected. I wanted the film to be made very quickly, but filmmaking takes time, and I needed to give my project the time and quality it deserved. As I realized how the timeline was evolving, I knew I wanted to premier it for the anniversary of Jina’s death. 

Colombe: For Her deals with “survivor’s guilt,”  as Mahnaz struggles with fighting the regime from her home in New York. How did you find the process of making this in New York, being so far from the root of the movement yourself ? 

Lilinaz: Despite my initial instinct to write about a girl living in Iran, I realized that I could draw more from my experience as a member of the diaspora. I did grow up in Iran, which allowed me to visualize the spaces and interactions I was seeking. I also had frequent contact with Iranian girls back home, as I was back there the summer prior to the protests, which was insightful and inspiring. I could and can sense how “over it they are.” It’s funny because when I was last in Iran, I was by far the most scared out of the group, while these girls just did not care anymore.

Colombe: Considering this distance, how did you manage working with a team of people who might not understand all of the layers that make up the movement ?

Lilinaz: My director of photography is Iranian, which I was super excited about, because I wanted a team that understood the movement. Then, the different aspects of the movie took different tolls on us. Filming could get very heavy, and it was a continuous priority for us to make sure both Anahita and I had a safe space and support. At the beginning of each scene we would talk about the scenes and the inherent difficulty to them. I am very thankful for my team, who took the project on and brought in the level of creativity needed to bring it to life, with the necessary patience.

Colombe: How does it feel to know your name will be, in some way, always affiliated to the movement? 

Lilinaz: It is an honor for my name to be associated with the cause. To me this is not political, it is only a story of human rights. It is against the Islamic Republic’s violation of human rights and for Women. Life. Freedom.’s success. 

Yes, it is hard because I know that from now on and until the revolution succeeds, I won’t be able to go home. But it’s a mild sacrifice in comparison to what the regime is imposing on its residents, and I just couldn’t refrain from participating in the movement for the sake of a visit. And anyway, in my vision or reality, the revolution will succeed, and I will show my people this film in Iran. 

Colombe: Voices like yours are very important, Lilinaz. What are your next steps in media, art, film but also in human rights ? 

Lilinaz: Art is serving the revolution, in fashion, in painting, exhibitions. The first thing that happened after Amini’s death was the release of “Baraye” by Shervin Hajipour, which quickly became the anthem and reignited the fire that animated the country.

I want to urge people to engage with forms of expression like For Her. It’s so easy to block out and be overwhelmed by the amount of news and issues around the world. We live so fast paced, and it’s only normal to experience the media fatigue and numbness that comes as a defense mechanism. However, art can expose you to some realities, and it’s important to engage with it to empathize with others. It is maybe the most important form of activism: it breaks walls down and gets people to feel for others. 

That’s what the human experience is about and it’s a beautiful way of understanding it.

On September 19th, 2023 Hakimi privately premiered her film to friends, family and supporters. Now that the film is out, receiving overwhelming praise from those who viewed it, it is too late for Hakimi or the rest of her team, to return to Iran: last year, Reporters Without Borders rated Iran 177 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index and described it as one of “the world’s biggest jailers of journalists.” 

Regardless, the For Her crew is working hard for its production to reach its potential. They are submitting the short version to film festivals, and organizing screenings in European capitals, like Paris and London. 

Echoes at the premiere were extremely positive, with the Iranian community thanking the crew for beautifully relating their experience, and non-Iranians for conveying that in a way that they were able to understand and identify with. 

Look out for where and when you can watch the For Her, and in the meantime support initiatives like this one around you!

Blog

Author:

  • Colombe Tricaud

Published on January 29, 2024

Share

Seeking asylum?

If you do not already have legal representation, cannot afford an attorney, and need help with a claim for asylum or other protection-based form of immigration status, we can help.