Filmmaker shocks with new docudrama

Two dozen stones hit a woman covered in blood.

The image may disturb some, but the director behind the camera said that is exactly the point.

“Nobody makes a movie about the stoning of a woman thinking it’s going to make a killing at the box office,” filmmaker Cyrus Nowrastehsaid at a lunch on Sunday.In front of a group of 14students and faculty, Nowrasteh spoke about his career and his latest film “The Stoning of Soraya M.”at the Office of International Students and Scholarsbefore the film screening at Whitney Humanities Center later that night. While many in the audience were openly upset by the graphic violence in the film, Nowrasteh said he had a good reason for including the stoning scene.

“We felt the responsibility to tell the truth,” Nowrasteh said.

Nowrasteh, who works with Amnesty International, said he is devoted to giving a voice to oppressed women in his native country of Iran. After reading an internationally renowned book by French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam called “The Stoning of Soraya M.,” Nowrasteh said he wanted to share this story with the world.

His movie tells the true story of an Iranian woman stoned to death. Nowrasteh said the project was a struggle from the beginning. Even getting a hold of Sahebjam to get the rights to the book became a challenge, he said.

“He was in hiding from Iranian officials after an attempt on his life,” Nowrasteh said.

The location, too, posed a challenge.

Filmed in a remote valley in Jordan, Nowrasteh said it became very difficult to shoot. But some students who viewed the film said the setting was worth the hassle.

“It wastes no time in taking you to the so-called ‘Modern Iran’” says Shirin Ahmed’12.

A $3.5 million project with an additional $3.5 million spent on its publicity, “The Stoning of Soraya M.”only grossed around $650,000 but the film has become a voice for the women of the Middle East, Nowrasteh said.

According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, there are 20,000 illegal copies of “The Stoning of Soraya M.” circulating in Iran and the film has high Internet downloadratings in the Middle East.

“We have been contacted by thousands of women, many of them from Iran, telling us their stories,” Nowrasteh said.

Without a distributor, Nowrasteh said the future of the film was precarious until it was released at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival. There Nowrasteh found both LionsGate, a distributor, and international acclaim at art houses and film festivals, including the Ghent Film Festival.

But the film’s shocking content has not been allowed to resonate in the Middle East, where it has become the one of the most condemned films in Iran, joining the ranks of“Persepolis” and “Sex and the City 2.”

Fortunately for Nowrasteh, he is used to controversyas the writer of the controversial documentary miniseries“The Path to 9/11.” The ABC production drew such criticism from former President Bill Clinton LAW ’73 and his aides that Disney was forced to cancel its release.

Speaking about the controversy that encircled “The Path to 9/11,” Nowrasteh described the media hype as “hysterical” where “[everybody] who had not seen the moviecondemned it”. But the publicity was not all negative.

“[The publicity] became instrumental for my future projects such as ‘Stoning of Soraya,’” Nowrasteh said.

Meanwhile, students interviewed said they thought the film is significant to current events.

“It shows important films do still get made,” Ahmed said.

Nowrasteh was born in Boulder, Co.,and graduated from the University of Southern California School of Cinema in 1977.

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