“Forced Confessions” Teaches About the Intangibility of the Soul
Screening at AI Toronto Reel Awareness Human Rights Film Festival, Sunday November 23rd, 3:30pm @Carlton Cinema, 20 Carlton Street, Toronto
article by Adriana Dragomir, Media Intern – AI Toronto Film Team
Being forced to say words that not only misrepresent your beliefs and actions but are meant to justify torture and imprisonment for wrongdoings you never committed feels like rape, argues writer Faraj Sarkoohi early on in “Forced Confessions,” Maziar Bahari’s film about the Islamic regime of Iran’s decades-long practice of broadcasting televised coerced confessions. Sarkoohi does not take his comparisons lightly: recorded in his bedroom while making love to his wife, he was forced to match the orgasmic noises on tape while being physically tortured. The memory of pain overlaps with that of an intimate, pleasurable connection refusing the prisoner the chance at mental escape.
Siamak Pourzand committed suicide as a way of defying the regime after years of house arrest and of testifying against the physical and psychological torture to which he was subjected. A journalist and creator of cine clubs where Western films were shown, Pourzand was called a ‘pimp’ and declared a corruptor of youth simply because in Persian ‘cine’ means ‘breasts.’ Student activist Ali Afshari was put through a mock execution before he was forced to confess publicly that his actions served the interests of foreign powers. Journalist Omid Memarian and philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo were also coerced into admitting that they pursued subversive activities. Finally, the film’s director, Iranian Canadian journalist and filmmaker Maziar Bahari, was imprisoned and his forced admission of being a spy for foreign intelligence agencies and of promoting a revolution in Iran was televised and broadcasted internationally.
The protagonists’ intellectual ties to Western culture are exploited by a repressive regime that perceives foreignness as threat, much like the Communist regimes to which it ironically compares itself in a media montage meant to accuse Jahanbegloo of instigating a ‘soft overthrow.’ The strategy aims to present them as different and not belonging to, or serving the interests of, the people of Iran. Never do these men try to justify their political stances, nor their confessions through the pressure of torture. While admitting to the limits of the body, the intangibility of the soul is a theme that transpires in each and every interview. Sarkoohi’s description of a state of bliss and absolute privilege when Beethoven appeared to conduct a symphony just for him at the moment between life and death elevates the film from its role as act of reparatory justice to that of testimony for a human spiritual cohesion that transcends nation, religion and time.
“Forced Confessions” is screened at Amnesty International’s REEL Awareness Film Festival, Sunday, November 23rd, 3:30 PM at the Carlton Cinema, 20 Carlton Street, Toronto. Guest speakers are Siamak Pourzand’s daughter, Lily Pourzand, Iran death row survivor Hamid Ghassemi-Shall and philosopher and author Ramin Jahanbegloo.