Every Story Has Two Sides: “Tehran: Another Side” is a film of an Iranian-American who returned to his family’s homeland, and discovered another side of the city erased from the narratives of mainstream media. This is his Tehran, but also a Tehran he aspires to offer into the popular American imagination.
Sam Ali Kashani was born in New Jersey in 1985, grew up in Los Angeles where he attended film school at California State University, Northridge. He received his B.A. in Cinema and Television Arts in 2006. at 2009 he wrote, directed, and produced his debut documentary “Tehran: Another Side”. As of 2010, “Tehran: Another Side” has been screened in numerous film festivals in USA, Holland, Iran, and many other countries.
Sam’s next few projects focus more on the booming underground culture in Iran, specifically the hip-hop movement taking place among the youth. Currently, Sam is a medical student, however he continues to be active in producing films centered around modern-day Iranian culture.
Bijan Tehrani: How did you come up with the idea of making Tehran: Another Side?
Sam Ali Kashani: Well I actually went to Iran for the first time when I was 21, and that was about three years ago and my first visit there really changed my life. All I knew about Iran was what I had seen on TV and heard from family members, who had lived there, but I was very surprised to see what the dynamic was of contemporary Iranian society and I saw that it was very different from the picture that is painted of Iran in the western media. I just became very interested in the different facets of everyday life in today’s Iran, and how there are so many normal things going on there that people have no idea bout. I became interested in becoming one voice or portal through which I could show many people what modern day Iran really looks like. I wanted to show a non-religious and non-political face of Iran today.
BT: You are introducing us to different characters in the film who are interesting and intelligent people, how easy or difficult was it to find these people and talk to them? How challenging was it to make this film in Iran?
SK: It was very challenging; the most important thing that I wanted to make sure before starting the filming process was that we had the proper documentation and paperwork. I’m sure you know that obtaining a filming permit is a very time consuming and frustrating process. I was lucky enough to finally obtain the right paperwork. Filming in the streets of Tehran presented many new challenges such as having to be careful not to bother anybody or get someone’s attention that we did not want to get. It became very difficult at times and even dangerous, but thankfully we were able to find our way out of any type of bind that we found ourselves in. We found people that were very enthusiastic and were eager to say what was on their minds, and we had other people who would run away at the sight of the camera. Overall, the challenge was just maintaining a low profile and not coming off in an aggressive way with the people that we were speaking to.
BT: Who was the most interesting character that you met during this film?
SK: I would definitely have to say it was an Iranian rapper named Soroush – Hich-kas; just the fact that he is one of the central pillars of underground Iranian music makes him a central themes covered in the film. Being born and raised in Los Angeles, I’m surrounded by all sorts of things, like movies and music and pop culture; but to go to a place like Iran and see their side of that culture was amazing. Going about finding him was not easy, but once I did find him I had the pleasure of meeting him and becoming friends with him. We are same age, but he represents a young man who has grown up under the system in Iran, so it was almost like meeting my Iranian counterpart.
BT: One of the criticisms of your film is that it doesn’t show images of the poor youth in Iran who don’t have the opportunities that the youth portrayed in your film have.
SK: Well, what I have to say about that is if someone is interested about learning about that, they should turn on CNN or FOX NEWS and they will show you plenty of footage of the poor and uneducated hard-core religious sect of Tehran. But in terms of my own desire to make this film, I made a film about what I wanted to make a film about. Like I said, I wanted to make a film about a side that people are not familiar with.
BT: How much do you think your film has helped in terms of changing peoples’ mindset about Iran?
SK: You know it’s funny; one of the main inspirations for making this film was that my Iranian friends and Iranian peers thought that Iran is some deserted land with no technology. But in terms of non-Iranians, I think it has been much more eye-opening than I anticipated. Many different people of many different nationalities have contacted me and thanked me for showing them this other side of Iran, so it’s been very rewarding to hear that peoples’ views of Iran has drastically changed.
BT: I understand that you have started to follow the Iranian rappers on other projects relating to Iranian hip-hop music.
SK: When I went there for that first documentary, I became immersed in the underground Iranian culture; I met many other people who are also in that field. I basically started to meet many people and I went to many different studios and it was amazing because these people are working against the government pretty much; they have no documentation and they can’t even sell their work unless they sell it on the street. It was amazing to see people with all of these restrictions making groundbreaking and high quality music. I really fell in love with this world and showed a piece of it in Tehran: Another Side. In my next few projects, I have centered around this subject exclusively, I have put a short documentary film up on YouTube which you can see has gotten a great response in the month that it has been up; it is called The Current State of Persian Hip-Hop, it follows another young Iranian rapper, Reveal, who is based out of England. It just him breaking down the history of Iranian hip-hop, it was actually just selected for a film festival in Europe. The next project is going to be a slightly longer documentary, which is going to show the daily routine of a rapper making music in Iran.