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#11: Infidels / Pilgrimage (2 films)

Directed by: Bahman Kiarostami
2004 / 2005 / 40 / 52 mins
Persian with English Subtitles

A documentary about the Godars, Artist-Gypsies Living in Iran. The Godars are nomadic gypsies who migrated from India to Iran and share the same heritage as the gypsies who moved into Eastern and Western Europe and into the Middle East. This tribe speaks Chuleh, which is a combination of Sanskrit, Mazandarani, and Farsi. Their original religion, Animism, was based on the belief that natural objects and phenomena possess lives and souls. During the Islamic Revolution, they were forced to convert, and although they are now officially Shiite Muslims, they are still outcasts and considered infidels. Infidels recounts the four ways which the Godars make their living: dancing, acting, hunting and music, and showcases their dedication to preserve their art and age-old rituals. In this film, the Godars sing songs, play music, and tell the ancient tales of their heritage which often deal with their problems with God. Infidels is the first film record of the Godars, their lives, and their efforts to maintain the independence of their culture.

Despite the threat of mines, assassination, and death by dehydration and starvation determined Shiite Muslims as many as 3,000 a day, have been pouring across the Iran-Iraq border since the fall of the Iraqi government. They risk their lives for only one reason: to visit the holy city of Karbala, fifty miles south of Baghdad. This city houses the magnificent shrine of seventh-century leader Imam Hussein, grandson of the prophet Muhamed. Hussein died in a battle in 681, a martyr to the Shiite faith. The intense devotion of these pilgrims to Imam Hussein and Karbala astounds outside observers at the same time that it puts the Iranian government in a major predicament. Torn between bureaucracy and allegiance to Islam, Tehran is continually revising its emigration policies, periodically opening and then closing its border. Meanwhile, people are dying, and chaos reigns at crossing points.

Bahman Kiarostami (born 1978) lives and works in Tehran, as a documentary film director, editor, and cinematographer. He made his first documentary ‘Morteza Momayez: Father of Iranian Contemporary Graphic Design’ in 1996. Most of his documentaries focus on valuing and legitimizing processes in art, but also cover the visible yet obscured and unnoticed details which define Iran’s post-revolutionary visual culture.