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A Documentary Of Suffering In Iran

January 10, 1987|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

At long last Rafigh Pooya, proprietor of the Fox International, has been able to buy back the distribution rights to his informative and heart-breaking 1981 documentary on Iran, "In Defense of People," which will be shown at his theater through Thursday.

It is timelier than ever, providing an understanding of a little-known nation.

In the early 1970s the Shah televised trials of political prisoners as a deterrent to political protesters.

When poet Khosrow Goulesorki and film maker Kerramat Danneshian took the stand they made lengthy, impassioned speeches on the evils of the Shah, thus sealing their death warrants. Their eloquent words form an apt and tragic frame for Pooya's survey of the history of modern Iran and record of the turbulent and bloody events that brought down the Shah.

The Iran in the last days of the Shah was in the grip of dizzying domestic problems compounded, as Pooya carefully points out, by the Shah's failure to carry out promised-land reforms that helped drive people out of the countryside and into already overcrowded cities.

Pooya bluntly portrays the Shah as a puppet of the U.S. government, and shows how hatred and fear of his notorious, torture-prone secret police corps could only extend to America, which supported him.

The litany of suffering reported by ordinary Iranian citizens is counterpointed with the pomp and ceremony that increasingly characterized the Shah's rule. There are clips of his lavish coronation ceremony and of his celebration, in the early '70s, of the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian empire.

There are also indications that the Shah, for all his tragic flaw of hubris, may have had the ultimate good of his people in his heart; such tantalizing glimpses suggest how fascinating a full-scale documentary on the Shah, who supported the development of an educated, sophisticated upper middle class and the emancipation of women, could be.

Inevitably, "In Defense of People," which resembles numerous documentaries on Central America in its plea for a nation's right to self-determination, raises the question of whether such a right has become a luxury in the tug-of-war between the superpowers.

Beyond this, "In Defense of People" (Times-rated Mature for complex, adult matters) elicits a deep, ironic melancholy, for it ends optimistically with the return of the Ayatollah Khomeini, whose regime in so many ways seems more oppressive and backward than the one it replaced.


An International Home Cinema release. Producer-director-cinematographer-editor Rafigh Pooya. Associate producer/assistant editor Barbara Bryan. Additional footage provided by various Iranian film makers. Jessie James Leaf interview provided by Allan Francovich. English version by Farrokh Abrishamkar. Poetry translator Farzaneh Milani. Music Kambiz Roshan Ravan.

Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.

Times-rated: Mature.

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