Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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February 23, 2014

Noted Iranian filmmaker makes first US visit

(Continued)

He was right.

After seeing some of the films, "for three months they didn't give me any work to do," Shirdel said of his supervisors. Driven mad with frustration, Shirdel told a powerful administrator he'd seen the light.

"I said I know I've been wrong, making all these films. I convinced him that I'm ashamed of what I've done," and that the next film would give authorities what they want.

Shirdel was told to make a film about a boy who had supposedly saved lives by preventing a terrible train accident. But when he travelled to the town nobody wanted to be interviewed. The film essentially documented that the entire story was a feel-good fraud, designed to present a heroic story even if there had been no real heroism.

Shirdel finished the film — called "The Night it Rained" — and a culture ministry official came to see it.

"That was a tragedy. I was laughing of course," Shirdel recalled. "He said, 'This is the epic that you wanted to bring?' And I said this is the epic I saw. This is the real epic."

"I was expelled from the ministry," Shirdel said. "That was 1967. So I came out, and I never looked back."

"The Night it Rained" was banned, briefly shown in 1974, then banned again, and Shirdel feared that much of his early work had been destroyed. But a year or two after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, he got a call from one of his students, who had been given a job at the same Ministry of Culture.

"He was crying. He said, 'We found your films,'" Shirdel said, noting that at first he got angry, suspecting a cruel hoax.

But it was true. Several films — and the unfinished footage of the prostitutes — had been stored, and in coming years they were shown to the public for the first time.

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