Monday, August 29, 2016

30 Years After

'Light Will Win Over Darkness' -- Iran's Former Empress Discusses New Documentary

Nahid Persson (left) and Farah Pahlavi in "The Queen And I"
Nahid Persson (left) and Farah Pahlavi in "The Queen And I"
The former empress of Iran, Farah Pahlavi, is the subject of a newly released documentary from an unlikely source -- Iranian-born filmmaker Nahid Persson, a former communist who took part in the 1979 revolution.

"The Queen And I" follows the former empress and her onetime opponent as they share ideas and concerns about the country they were both forced to leave. Farah Pahlavi speaks to RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari about her decision to participate in the documentary, screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

RFE/RL: Why did you agree to take part in "The Queen And I" -- the documentary by Nahid Persson, in which you are the subject?

Farah Pahlavi:
I always have a positive view and affection toward my countrymen, especially those young artists who have been successful inside and outside Iran.

So, when Nahid Persson asked to do this -- since I had seen two of her documentaries, including one about prostitution in Iran, which was very painful but she had done it with courage, and also another one about a man in Iran who has four wives and wants to marry a fifth -- because of that I accepted to work with her and participate in the documentary.

RFE/RL: Were there any moments when you regretted your decision?

Yes, this comes also in the movie. After some time [working together], I received several e-mails informing me that she was a communist in her youth, she was a member of a communist group that I hadn't heard of. Naturally I started having doubts, and I thought to myself, "All these 30 years, with all the problems, all the attacks against me by the Islamic republic or negative articles by opponents, all these years I did my best to tell, in hundreds of interviews with TV networks, press and other media, what I see as the truth and realities of the monarchy and also the realities of today's Iran."

I had doubts because the person who makes a documentary is in charge of the camera, filming, and also editing, so I was a bit concerned. I thought to myself, "This lady was young and was unfortunately from a [low-income family] and at that age and that time, they would think that communist ideas would bring justice and equality." And all the slogans at that time were about freedom. But I have traveled to [former] communist countries and there was no sign of social justice or freedom.

Then I thought, "Why shouldn't I have a dialogue with people who in the past had different political opinions?" What is important for us is that we're Iranians and we have to think about Iran's future, and I know that some of those who were part of the opposition have come and said with courage that they are sorry for what they did. It's true that there were some shortages at that time, but there was no need for such a horrible revolution. Of course, there are also those whose opinion will never change.

RFE/RL: What would you describe as the biggest highlight? The most interesting part of the documentary?

For me, the interesting thing about this documentary is that two people in different positions and with different political ideas can talk to each other. In the documentary we don't have an official meeting, we talk to each other, we tell each other our problems.

I think in that sense it is interesting, but I leave it to the audience. Everyone might see a different thing in the documentary.

RFE/RL: How was your first meeting with Persson? Did you feel you were meeting someone from another world?

Even in the past, during the monarchy, some of our ministers had a communist or leftist past, so it wasn't the first time for me. At first when we met, we didn't know each other. Aside from the differing political views, it takes time to get used to a new character and personal behavior. When we slowly got to know each other, it was easier to talk.

It's been 30 years that I haven't had the status I once had, yet I still have a special feeling for my countrymen.

RFE/RL: Have you seen the final version of the documentary? What did you think about it?

I've seen the final version. Certain things are said there; there are certain issues that I don't agree with. To a certain degree she was free to do this, but I wished she had given me the same opportunity as she had given to herself to express her views when she was by herself, so that I could have also expressed my views. And I think it would have made the documentary more interesting and it would have been more fair.

RFE/RL: Could you give us an example?

Well, for example, the notion that were no political freedoms in the past. I've said it myself in many places that the conditions of the country were such that, at the time, it was not possible to guarantee those freedoms and the late Shah [Mohammad Reza Pahlavi] always used to say that after him, his son, the prince, would rule differently.

And there were scenes that didn't make me happy, but one cannot be content about everything. I have given many interviews during these years, but I never knew what the results would be. I always express my views -- but a journalist, a filmmaker, also adds his or her view.

RFE/RL: What is the message of the documentary in your view?

For me, the most important thing is that we're two people who have or had different political philosophies or views -- maybe we became closer. We have to think about Iran's tomorrow, we have to think about Iran's today, and we have to put the issues we had in the past behind us. I think this is the documentary's most important message.

I am sure that what may be an issue for some of us is not an issue anymore inside Iran. For the women of Iran, for Iran's young people, for Iranians from different classes and groups -- they want to have a better life, they want to be able to make a living, have jobs and a comfortable life, they want to be able to live freely, have better health care. You know, these are more important for Iranians inside the country than ideas and differences that we had 50 years ago.

RFE/RL: The 30th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution is being celebrated these days. What are your thoughts on this?

Sometimes I can't believe that 30 years have passed, because I still live everyday with the thought of Iran and Iranians on my mind. I naturally think, like [many] Iranians, that if this horrible revolution hadn't happened, our country with its immense national wealth, natural resources, and its human richness, what a place it could have had in that region. It's really regrettable after what happened to the security of Iran, and the region is threatened, and its threat has reached the world.

I am really hopeful and I will not give up hope for the freedom of Iran, for the improvement of Iran's situation. I hope that Iran will regain the respected place it had in the international community -- and I greet all the women and young people; workers and intellectuals and villagers; and all Iranians who, despite all the problems and pressure, are still fighting to have a better life and for the future of their country. I always believe that light will win over darkness.
30 Years After

As Iran celebrates the 30th anniversary of its Islamic Revolution, RFE/RL looks at the legacy of the revolution and its effect on Iran and the world. More

Images Of Revolution

An audio slide show of Reza Deghati's iconic photos of the Iranian Revolution and the hostage crisis that followed. Play

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Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
by: Katy
February 08, 2009 12:46
I have a lot of respect and admiration for Farah Pahlavi. She did a lot for Iran.

by: Frank Kaiser from: Swizerland
February 08, 2009 22:48
La Reine Farah &#233;tait une ardente bienfaitrice pour le droit des femmes en Iran, et le bien devenir de son pays... <br />-----------------<br />Queen Farah was an ardent benefactor to women's rights in Iran, and well being her country ...

by: mahtub
February 09, 2009 04:43
I have a great deal of respect for farah pahlavi.They did a lot for iranzamin.Iran,under fara pahlavi, was Civil, and Human rights,and civil rights, were respected.Look at Iran today.

by: sharshalimar from: the netherlands
February 09, 2009 10:34
I've seen the documentary and found it very touching towards both the Shahbanou and Nahid Persson.Indeed Nahid had more chance of expressing herselves but I was very impressed with and proud of the Shahbanou.She showed the world that she is realistic about the past and the present not denying or hiding anything!I found the respect and affection they both showed a great example for the future.<br /><br /> Sharon

by: Winston from: Canada
February 09, 2009 21:57
I admire Shahbanoo Farah and I owe my intellectual upbringing to her and to those foundations she made in Iran like Kanoon Farhangi and such. I am hopeful that she can return to a free Iran soon.

by: Shamsi from: U.S.A
February 11, 2009 02:05
I have such high respect and admiration for Shahbanoo, she is the Queen of Iranian women's heart, she did a lot for our country and for women's right and still she does. I love her to death and I have such high hope soon we all will go back to our Sacret Sarzamin IRAN.

by: Cyrus Kadivar from: United Kingdom
February 11, 2009 21:24
I have not seen the film yet. However, from what I have heard it is perhaps one way of healing the wounds of the past and opening the door to reconciliation. It must also be said that HIM Farah Pahlavi, the Empress (Shahbanou) of Iran, has a special place in the heart of many Iranians. Her role in Iran before the revolution and especially her dignity in exile and devotion to her country and late husband is truly remarkable. Historians will one day place Farah Pahlavi on the same level as Queen Nefertiti for her beauty and in the pantheon of great female figures who played a role in their country's prestige and development.<br />Cyrus KADIVAR<br />London, UK

by: Ardavan Bahrami from: USA
February 13, 2009 12:49
Empress Farah is perhaps the only living link between today and a past that if not celebrated by a minority, if judged impartially, marked a period where materialization of Iranians’ dreams were possible.<br /><br />30 years on since that mass hysteria, I wonder if any honest Iranian would still claim that the revolution was worth it!<br /><br />History’s most preposterous revolution, where an spectrum from far left (Tudeh) to the right (our so-called ‘National Front’) came together demanding greater freedom but screaming over their heads for an Islamic republic!!<br /><br />Unfortunately secularism was never on any Iranian politician’s or activist’s agenda - till very recently; without which democracy would not run roots deep.<br />

by: Ali from: Tabriz
February 13, 2009 13:39
Under the Pahlavis we had dignity, respect, total social freedom hence happiness; we had food, laughter, jobs, free healthcare and free education, a bright future, a house and a car, security, a holiday trip a year to the Caspian, good schools and universities; we had choice, we were proud, we were healthy, we could plan our children's future, we had stability, peace - of mind and soul too, we had kind &amp; caring neighbours, we had, had and had but no we did not have political freedom, YET! <br />Today, we have nothing.<br />Yesterday, we had a lot and could have had everything.<br />Tomorrow, who knows, it may never come.

by: Holt Ruffin from: Mill Valley CA
February 14, 2009 02:08
Farah Pahlavi is a very remarkable woman and has much to offer her country. It would be a bold and very appropriate gesture if Hillary Clinton would meet with her to hear ideas for improvements in U.S. policy toward Iran.
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