By Jeff Kaufman
February 10, 2021
In a recently-published interview with IranWire, the camerawoman Mahnaz Alizadeh told of how she came to be stranded in South America after falling into the hands of a human trafficker, while she was trying to flee political persecution in Iran. Here the filmmaker Jeff Kaufman, who recently directed a new documentary on the life and achievements of lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh to which Alizadeh contributed, shares his thoughts on the activist’s plight.
The position that cinematographer and activist Mahnaz Alizadeh finds herself in – stranded in Brazil and trying to find a safe haven knowing that a return to Iran could lead to imprisonment or worse – is painful and frightening. As the director/writer and a producer of the documentary NASRIN I feel deep gratitude and respect for the unique contribution of Mahnaz and the other individuals who helped us film in Iran.
One of our goals when we started this documentary in 2016 was to give people around the world access to an unseen side of Iran – its vibrant culture, its resilient women’s rights movement, a sense of family and daily life, and inspiration from remarkable role models like Nasrin Sotoudeh. That was possible thanks to Nasrin, and thanks to people like Mahnaz who put themselves at risk to follow Nasrin around Tehran (and beyond), camera in hand. You’ll see in the film Nasrin meeting clients, participating in protests, visiting a modern art gallery, shopping in a bookstore, attending a theatre production of Ariel Dorfman’s play Death and the Maiden, and walking her son home from school on a sunny afternoon. These anonymous camera crews did remarkable work.
The safety of the women and men involved in this documentary, on screen and behind the camera, has always been one of our central concerns. We kept this project secret throughout filming and editing. We didn’t even do public fundraising. Many times, we told Nasrin that we’d stop our work if she felt it might compromise her or others. Nasrin was careful to protect those who needed to stay private, but she always expressed her commitment to move forward.
The people you see in NASRIN, from anti-hijab protestor Narges Hosseini to world-renowned filmmaker Jafar Panahi, all agreed to be filmed and featured in this documentary. It’s humbling and motivating to work with people who are willing to put themselves on the line for human rights and the opportunity to create a much-needed cross-country connection.
I publicly identified Mahnaz Alizadeh as a contributor to NASRIN after she was detained in Brazil. It was important for the Brazilian court to understand that she faced arrest and torture (and possibly death) if deported back to her country of origin. This is the fate of many activist artists in Iran.
I urge the Brazilian authorities to recognize that Mahnaz will be in grave danger if forced to return to her former home. She is also not a criminal and should not be treated as one. Mahnaz Alizadeh has a lot to contribute to an adopted country. She should be given the freedom and opportunity she deserves.