Yasaman Baghban, an accomplished Iranian filmmaker and educator, has carved a distinct space for herself in the realm of film-making. Her unique approach, which combines an academic perspective with the experiential grit of industry experience, makes her films compelling narratives. Yasaman’s film,

Film and entertainment have evolved significantly over the years, becoming increasingly diverse and complex in their representation of society. Today, the industry plays a crucial role not only in providing entertainment but also in sparking dialogues, shaping perceptions, and providing commentary on social and political issues. It is a medium that bridges gaps and transcends cultural boundaries, highlighting the beauty and the paradox of the human experience in all its rawness and complexity.

Within this realm, there are filmmakers who create cinematic masterpieces that leave a lasting impact on audiences and the industry itself. Yasaman Baghban, a film director, researcher, and educator, is one such individual who has carved her niche in the industry with her unique approach to filmmaking.

Born in Iran and currently residing in the United States, Yasaman Baghban has an impressive career marked by academic and practical brilliance. With a background in Engineering and Cinema Studies and a Masters in Experimental and Documentary Arts from Duke University, Yasaman has utilized her diverse knowledge to bring about fresh perspectives in film creation. Her diverse academic background and experience have cultivated a distinct filmmaking approach that expertly weaves creativity, research, and personal expression.

Portrait of Yasaman Baghban, an accomplished Iranian filmmaker and educator, known for her insightful documentaries. In the picture, she exhibits a thoughtful expression, reflecting her profound engagement with complex socio-political themes in her works.

Yasaman has demonstrated her exceptional expertise and success in her field through her film I Was Born in 1988, an experimental documentary that is a personal essay based on the 1988 series of executions of Iranian political prisoners. Yasaman’s birth in August 1988 coincided with this massacre, and her exploration of this coincidence is both profound and courageous.

Recently, we interviewed Yasaman Baghban to delve deeper into her creative and research processes. Yasaman spoke eloquently about the inspiration behind her film, her careful research process, and the challenges of navigating the public and private spheres when making a documentary. She also discussed her innovative use of sounds and images to create a unique viewing experience, her ethical approach to storytelling, and how her academic background has contributed to her film’s creation process.

Today, Yasaman provides us a sneak peek into her film creation process and research prowess.

Thank you for speaking with us today, Yasaman. We’d love to get to know more about your project. What inspired you to make the film I Was Born in 1988, and how did the events of that year influence your approach to filmmaking?

In almost every family, it seems there was at least one person entangled with the issues of 1988. For roughly 30 years, since my childhood, I’ve been hearing stories about the execution of innocent individuals across all ages, starting from 16 and up… It’s something I’ve been contemplating. However, the limited freedom of speech in the Islamic Republic of Iran prevented me from creating a film with such a politically charged theme, one that critiques politicians and ideological laws based on Shariah while also addressing human rights. While I could have opted for a more conservative short film, as many have done, I chose to sidestep any censorship or self-censorship.

Furthermore, the trial of Hamid Nouri, which began in Stockholm in August 2021, and its subsequent media coverage, reminded me of the urgency to create something regarding this critical issue.

Can you share your research process for creating I Was Born in 1988? What challenges did you face during this stage, and how did you overcome them?

When it comes to research, which I believe is the most important and time-consuming stage in documentary filmmaking, I turned to a wide range of resources. I poured over numerous interviews and films, reading and watching extensively. Two of the most valuable resources I can confidently highlight were the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center website and Justice for Iran.

In terms of challenges, it’s worth noting that when you incorporate your personal life and story into a documentary, you inevitably grapple with the tension between the private and public spheres. There are aspects you yearn to express, but given the sensitivity of privacy, you find yourself hesitating about the most effective way to present them. This was perhaps the most challenging aspect for me. In the end, I prioritized selecting the parts that would enhance the power of my work.

You describe your film as an “experimental documentary” and “personal essay.” Can you expand on these terms and explain how they informed your creative process?

Indeed, I did not adhere to traditional documentary styles in I Was Born in 1988. Rather than showcasing interviews and talking heads recounting their memories, my approach hinged on the synthesis of sounds and images to craft a novel and immersive experience for the audience.

Considering that I Was Born in 1988 deals with a painful and controversial part of Iranian history, how did you navigate the ethical aspects of storytelling in this context?

It was critically done through meticulous research, respectful representation, the inclusion of diverse perspectives, and careful contemplation of the impact on those involved. By adhering to these principles, my aim was to create a film that not only honors the truth but also upholds ethical integrity.

How did your academic background in Engineering, Cinema Studies, and Experimental and Documentary Arts contribute to your film’s creation process?

Yasaman Baghban, an accomplished filmmaker with a diverse academic foundation spanning Engineering, Cinema Studies, and Experimental and Documentary Arts. This unique blend of disciplines has contributed to her multifaceted filmmaking approach, fusing problem-solving skills, film theory knowledge, and innovative storytelling methods.

Each discipline offers unique perspectives, skills, and insights that enrich my creative process. My background in Engineering nurtures problem-solving abilities, meticulous attention to detail, and systematic thinking.

Studying Cinema deepens my comprehension of film theory, genres, and narrative techniques, enabling me to engage critically with a broad array of films and to draw inspiration from them.

The coursework in Experimental and Documentary Arts, an interdisciplinary field, encourages me to explore unconventional approaches to documentary filmmaking. This involves experimenting with different modes of storytelling and challenging the boundaries of traditional documentary practices. It allows me to fuse creativity, research, and personal expression seamlessly in my filmmaking, resulting in more innovative and thought-provoking films.

Overall, this diverse academic background enriches my approach to filmmaking by furnishing a comprehensive skill set and a novel perspective on storytelling.

Can you talk about the narrative structure of I Was Born in 1988? How did you decide on the film’s progression, and what factors did you consider while developing the narrative?

The narrative structure of I Was Born in 1988 was crafted with an intent to encapsulate both the personal and historical facets of the events. In the film, I intertwine themes of birth, death, personal and collective memory, and the influence of Islamic rules imposed by leaders, clergymen, and the death commission, which unjustly executed innocent individuals based solely on ideological differences.

By delving into these interconnected themes, my aim is to illuminate the profound impact of these events on individuals and society as a whole. The juxtaposition of birth and death stands as a symbol of life’s cyclical nature and the tragic loss of innocent lives. Moreover, I explore the complexities of personal and collective memory, underlining how these memories shape our interpretation of the past and influence our present circumstances.

I particularly underscore the deep injustice faced by individuals who held differing beliefs, emphasizing the seriousness of the situation and the infringement of human rights.

Through the film’s narrative structure, I endeavor to create a potent and thought-provoking exploration of personal experiences and historical events, ultimately with the goal of raising awareness and sparking dialogue surrounding these critical issues.

What was the most impactful moment for you during the making of I Was Born in 1988? How has this experience influenced your subsequent projects or teaching methodology?

The most poignant moment for me during the making of I Was Born in 1988 occurred when I was editing the narration. With each revision, addition, and removal, my thoughts invariably drifted to the parents who had lost their children and entire families.

It was especially distressing to realize that in the Islamic Republic, if a young woman is a virgin, she is forced into sexual intercourse the night before her execution to circumvent the law prohibiting the execution of virgins. This harrowing realization profoundly affected me. On several occasions during the editing process, I found myself picturing the parents being informed by the guards that their 16-year-old daughter was raped before her execution. The thought of their unfathomable suffering was unbearable, especially given that the government refers to this as a “wedding” rather than a “rape.”

This experience underscored for me the importance of shedding light on human rights abuses and exposing the inhumane realities many individuals endure. I believe that documentaries wield unique power to uncover and raise awareness about these harsh truths. I often relay this experience to others, emphasizing that being a documentary filmmaker goes beyond merely possessing a camera and documenting someone’s life. It demands a profound empathy and understanding of others’ lives, even when that proves to be a challenging task.

By immersing myself in the lives and stories of those affected by social injustices, I aim to create impactful documentaries that provoke thought, stir emotions, and inspire change. My objective is to challenge societal norms, ignite conversations, and champion human rights through my filmmaking and teaching.

As an educator, how do you plan on using I Was Born in 1988 as a teaching tool for your students, and what lessons do you hope they’ll take away from it?

Firstly, my intention is to utilize I Was Born in 1988 as an educational tool to underscore the audacity and courage inherent in sharing personal stories. I want my students to understand the importance of amplifying marginalized narratives and the power of storytelling in fostering awareness and empathy.

Additionally, I hope to inspire my students to explore fresh perspectives when scrutinizing historical events, such as the massacre that took place over 30 years ago. It’s vital to discover innovative means to cast light on such occurrences, ensuring they are neither forgotten nor overshadowed by mass media and the propaganda of oppressive regimes.

Through engagement with the film, I aim for my students to comprehend the significance of unveiling concealed truths, challenging established narratives, and advocating for social justice through their own creative endeavors. I hope they will cultivate critical thinking skills and a sense of responsibility to confront social and political issues in their own work.


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