In 2009, Iranian Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari was covering Iran’s volatile elections for Newsweek. He was one of the few reporters living there with access to US media. Around this time, he also appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, in a taped interview with comedian Jason Jones, all meant as a satire, but authorities in Iran did not find it all that funny. That comedic TV sketch came back to haunt Bahari when he was arrested at his family home and thrown into Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.
In return, Jon Stewart decided to tell Bahari’s story thru film. He penned the screenplay and chose to make his directorial debut with the project now called Rosewater. It’s the conflict of journalism with political power, seen through the prism of memory. Bahari’s interrogator wears a strong rosewater scent that immediately reminds him of his childhood. Isolated in prison, he finds refuge in recollections of Leonard Cohen music and conversations with his politically engaged father.
Stewart’s show on Comedy Central has been the voice of democracy, transparency, and freedom of expression, tackling the limitation and compromise of these ideals thru humor in a talk show format.
In Rosewater, and as filmmaker, Stewart takes a more serious approach. But his wit seems to present itself, as some have noted, the way Woody Allen’s performance showed itself, in the Hollywood blacklist drama The Front.
In this film, Stewart has approached the subject with emotion and dramatic engagement, aiming to reach the widest audience possible, by making the film in English, casting the internationally celebrated actor, Gael Garcia Bernal (Amores Perros, Bad Education), a Latino actor playing what seems to be a convincing Iranian, and casting famous Iranian actresses who live outside Iran, Golshifteh Farahani (Just Like a Woman, Eden) and Shohreh Aghdashloo (24, House of Sand and Fog).
Rosewater is a very timely film, considering the grim outcome of journalists held captive and killed in terrorist hands. The film is an official selection at Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2014, premiering Monday, Sept 08, and screening again on Tues. Sept. 9
CLICK HERE to watch Jon Stewart introduce the official trailer for the film.
CLICK HERE for Rosewater’s TIFF schedule