On Monday, Sept. 18, the Southern Film Circuit hosted “When God Sleeps,” a documentary starring Shahin Najafi, an Iranian musician who was exiled from Iran for speaking out against his country and their religion. The film was directed and produced by Till Schauder.
The character claims “My songs didn’t make me famous. The fatwa did.”
A fatwa is a ruling—often a death sentence—given by an Islamic figure of authority. In Najafi’s case, nearly an entire nation wanted him dead because of his explicit songs. He eventually had a bounty of $500,000 placed on his head.
Najafi’s music was largely provocative and spoke out against Islamic traditions. It is easy to overlook his actions from an American perspective, where, in the U.S., people have freedom of speech. The documentary featured Najafi taking refuge in Germany. With the help of others, he learned how to disguise himself and stay under the radar in order to protect himself. Najafi was under constant threat, but despite this, he continued to perform and stand up for his beliefs.
“In the beginning, it was mostly me. All of those scenes in the apartment with Shahin were done by me. Eventually, we got a crew with more funding,” said Schauder.
“When God Sleeps” featured a very personal experience of Najafi’s life. Schauder captured more than scenes from Muslim, Iran and Najafi’s performances. Najafi’s personal life was also portrayed though time spent with his friends and girlfriend. This helped the audience develop a unique type of bond with the main character. It provoked a strong sense of wanting Najafi to succeed in all that he did. It helped them see how extreme Islam can be through his first-hand point of view. It was easy to relate with Najafi in this way, by agreeing with his beliefs and his desire to speak freely and express himself against an authoritative force.
After the film, one audience member said, “I thought it was amazing to see what’s going on in Iran and how Germany is protecting [Middle Eastern] refugees.”
Audience member Mary Jo Cobb added, “I really enjoyed it. It felt like I was right in the action. It was really dramatic and it’s nice to have the director here, too.”
The only disappointment, expressed by someone in the audience, was the level of attendance.
“This event needs to be advertised more. Coming to something like this is a very rich and valuable experience, especially to students in film-making and foreign affairs,” she said. “It opens minds up to things you don’t normally see.”
The film became more than an entertaining musical piece by blending with the enthralling adventure of a rebellious Iranian’s life. It contained real-time representations of current worldly events that many Americans were unaware of. The director of the film pointed out that Germany sacrificed a lot of resources in welcoming and protecting refugees. It is estimated that one million refugees were taken onto German soil, whereas the U.S. only allowed a mere 50,000, which Schauder pointed out was a joke.
This is perhaps a notion that the U.S. needs to readdress. Luckily, the film is going to be broadcasted in the U.S. on PBS.
The Southern Film Circuit is a venue for independent filmmakers to showcase their work in the South. At Western Carolina University, the Southern Film Circuit operates through Arts and Cultural Events (ACE). Every year, there is normally one showing per month during September, October, November, January, February and March.
Brandon Lokey, the Assistant Director of Campus Activities and President of ACE, said, “If you are interested in films or film studies, or if you have an independent film you want to showcase, the best way to get involved would be to join the ACE advisory committee.”
Western Carolina’s next film will be “Southwest of Salem” which is about homophobia in Southern Texas, taking place in the 1980s and ‘90s. The following film will be “Jackson,” regarding the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi.
“All of our films have an educational element. The filmmaker or subject travels with the film. For example, for our next film, ‘Southwest of Salem,’ the subject will make an appearance who, in this case, is Anna Vasquez. I think that will be very interesting. She was jailed for about sixteen years for assault of a minor,” said Lokey.
To learn more, visit www.southarts.org/touring-arts/southern-circuit/.