Iranian Filmmaker's Road Less Traveled
Documentary filmmaker Komeil Soheili spends two months in St. Petersburg, sharing Iranian culture and challenging stereotypes.
Published: August 21, 2013 (Issue # 1774)
Komeil Soheili was at least somewhat prepared for the journey of hitchhiking from Tehran to St. Petersburg.
“St. Petersburg, in Persian literature, is kind of a symbol of a very, very long way,” Soheili said, speaking to The St. Petersburg Times on Friday. “For example, I found in some books that instead of saying ‘it’s very far,’ they say ‘it’s like St. Petersburg.’”
Through much of history, both Persia and Russia existed in the western eye as exotic and faraway nations about which much was imagined and little was known. Soheili found that even today, knowledge of Iran’s rich history and culture is opaque to outsiders, due to the political clashes that cut Iran off from the rest of the world. Soheili has come to St. Petersburg in the latest stage of a kind of pilgrimage to present “Persia: Untold Stories,” a discussion of Iranian culture and people.
A 28-year-old native of Mashhad, the second biggest city in Iran, Soheili has lived in Tehran for much of his life. His journalistic career began at the age of 16, when he handwrote arts stories for newspapers. Since then, he has worked as an arts and cinema journalist and documentary filmmaker with a focus on Iranian society.
Soheili has taken part in making more than 40 movies in Iran, despite the fact that filming can be restricted.
“It has its own difficulties,” he said. “But we made many movies.”
Less than a year after graduating from Tehran University with a master’s degree in Cultural Studies and Media in 2009, Soheili embarked on a formative six-month trip backpacking and hitchhiking around Iran, a country whose multiplicity of cultures and languages resembles Russia’s. It was the first extended journey he had taken around his country.
“I was really curious to know more about Iran. There are really different regions, different cultures and traditions. It inspired me a lot,” he said.
“I really surprised myself in some places. I couldn’t even talk the language sometimes!”
After that trip, Soheili had to complete his compulsory military service, after which he was granted a passport. That began the journey outside of Iran that Soheili is still on.
“I’ve hitchhiked from Tehran to St. Petersburg,” he said. “So far.”
He has been in Russia for just over two months now. In addition to presenting “Persia: Untold Stories,” he also shot footage for a documentary with the help of Russian friends, including Alisa Shablovskaya, an Iranian Studies graduate of St. Petersburg University.
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