"Bam 6.6", How a natural disaster can overcome religious and political barriers

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Bam 6.6 is the story of the human condition. The film weaves together stories of survival, loss, and healing, as we explore the humanity of the Iranian people through the prism of the devastating 2003 earthquake that struck at the heart of Bam, an ancient Iranian village.

Bam 6.6  subjects come from different walks of life – A Jewish-American woman, an American businessman, and the Iranian residents of Bam. Through their experiences, viewers will witness how a natural disaster can overcome religious and political barriers, dispel stereotypes, and unite disparate members of the human family.

Jahangir Golestan-Parast, producer/director of Bam 6.6, was born in Isfahan, Iran on April 4, 1951 and raised in a family of restaurateurs. Leaving Iran at the age of 17, Jahangir pursued educational studies and business interests in London and France before finally settling in southern California’s Orange County. He has lived in four countries and traveled to nearly 40 countries, which has provided a unique perspective on the many cultures that comprise today’s world.

An international financier and a student of film making at UCLA, Jahangir’s first documentary Isfahan , A City Known as Half the World was based on the city of his birth and released in 1997. Expanding that effort into a series known as The Essence of Iran Series, Iran, a Video Journey was released in 2000 and captures the life of a typical modern-day Iranian. Both films have achieved critical acclaim and accolades. As Jahangir was preparing to produce a third video in the Essence of Iran series, the Bam earthquake struck. As he experienced the worldwide outpouring of assistance, Jahangir realized that there was a story to be told.

Cinema Without Borders: How did you encounter the subject of Bam 6.6 and what motivated you to make this film?
Jahangir Goletan-Parast: I was preparing to make my third travelogue about Iran when an earthquake destroyed the city I intended to highlight, that is, Bam. My intended film was to emphasize the city’s history, residents, and architecture as a means of drawing attention to Iran’s rich cultural heritage. My purpose was to encourage more Westerners to overcome their hesitations and get to know the misunderstood nation firsthand. All of that seemed pointless after a disaster in which almost every Bam resident died or was hurt or made homeless. But shortly thereafter, in early 2004, a news item that I encountered by chance about two American casualties of the earthquake impressed me as a rich topic for a documentary about the triumph of compassion over political barriers and religious divisions. It turned out these tourists, the central figures in Bam 6.6, were in Iran for the same purpose that I pursue in my films – to experience and highlight the shared humanity of our peoples. The wonderful treatment the couple received in Iran before and after the earthquake left no doubt that Iranians deserve the goodwill of cultural ambassadors like Tobb Dell’Oro and his fiancée, Adele Freedman.

CWB: Did you write a screenplay for Bam 6.6? Was there a research stage in pre-production of the film?
JG: I did not start with a scri pt. In the beginning I only knew what message I hoped the film would convey and I kept an open mind about the details. I had never made a documentary before; so I decided early on to track the actual human interactions that the tragedy prompted and let them show me the way. So my research progressed together with filming and the outcome of each interview led me to look for fuller content.

CWB: How long was the production stage of Bam 6.6 and what was the most challenging aspect of making the film?
JG: The film took four years to complete. Had I tried to be “practical” about the obstacles that would slow me, I probably would not have even started the project. Some delays were due to equipment needs and Bam’s distance from Los Angeles, where I live. Tracking down the people who eventually contributed photos or footage or gave interviews and acquiring some needed technical skills also took time; but I’d say funding was the biggest challenge of all.

CWB: Did you know any of the characters of Bam 6.6 personally? If so, how much did that help you in making of Bam 6.6?
JG: I knew none of the people featured in Bam 6.6. I chose them based on their relevance to the events and to one another. People made themselves available for interviews even when recalling the tragedy was emotionally painful. In a way, unexpected trust or intimacy among strangers was what post-earthquake life was all about. For example, Adele’s father, who rushed with her mother to Iran to help in Adele’s recovery, remarked in his interview, “My one regret during our short stay was that we could not take up the wonderful offers of hospitality that we had. Almost every night we had to turn down two or three invitations to come to people’s homes. These were strangers that we had never met before, but they threw open their arms and their houses and their hospitality for us.”

CWB: Please tell us about the post-production stage of Bam 6.6. How much of the film was created during editing?
JG: The scene that depicts Adele’s mother’s recurring nightmare after Adele decided to travel to Iran is, needless to say, a visualization that I added for effect.

CWB: Bam 6.6 focuses mainly on Tobb’s story. So after you describe his death, one expects that film will end there. But Bam 6.6 goes on to cover the efforts of the international teams helping the earthquake victims. What was your reason to take this direction?
JG: Here, too, it was the actual flow of events that guided me. In a film that highlights random kindness to travelers from faraway lands, I could not stop at Tobb’s death and overlook the generous humanitarian aid that poured in from all over the world to the desperate local survivors. The generous US help was especially significant in light of the strained relations between our two countries. The spirited message that I hope viewers take away from my film is that we all can be who we are and still help bring out the best in each other regardless of political and religious barriers. The international response was very much a part of the hope and compassion that stirred in the hearts of so many following the tragedy. For example, Time Magazine reported that some members of the U.S. team were moved to tears when, just days after the earthquake, a group of Iranian medics on the scene approached with sweets and similar treats to help the Americans celebrate their New Year.

CWB: Have people of Bam seen Bam 6.6? What has been the reaction of audiences to your film?
JG: It would be interesting to see audience reactions when the earthquake survivors themselves get to see Bam 6.6. Here in the United States, the feedback has been largely very positive and I have witnessed dozens of viewers moved to tears. I keep receiving emails from Iranian expatriates who are delighted to find an antidote to movies like Not Without My Daughter and 300. Lots of other Americans, too, write after watching the film to say that they would love to travel to Iran. A couple in Montana reported that they have put my film to good use in their efforts to assemble a citizens’ goodwill delegation to visit Iran. The most memorable feedback came in January from Bruce Laingen, the top U.S. diplomat taken hostage in Tehran 1979 to 1981. After praising my film lavishly in a television interview, he magnanimously added, “I’m still a friend of Iran, I have enormous respect for the people of Iran.” His affirmation of the message of Bam 6.6 after all that he had been through meant the world to me.

CWB: What is your next project?
JG: I hope to continue in the same vein to produce documentaries about cross-cultural understanding in international settings that limit contact.

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About Author

Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

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