In Tehran, Afghan refugee children find joy and dignity in theater [video]
In the recent documentary 'No Lips, No Laughter,' a young Iranian-American filmmaker portrays seven Afghan refugee children who – with few resources other than their own creativity – stage a play about a man who discovers true happiness comes from within.
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Finding true happiness
Shamlou’s story, called "The Man Without Lips," depicts the paradox of a man named Hossein-Gholi, who has all the physical and material things in life to make him happy, but has no lips for laughter. As Hossein-Gholi desperately struggles to find lips to laugh with and express his happiness, he comes to learn that it is not the physical image of a smile that defines true happiness, but a happy soul.Skip to next paragraph
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The children in Pourazari’s theater troupe personify Hossein-Gholi’s progression towards happiness because they aren’t chained to the material things that everyone else is held hostage to, says the film’s director in a phone interview.
“For these kids, the camaraderie that comes with working in theater and acting together in these classes is their way of finding laughter,” says Farmanara. “They’re not privileged, but make up for it with other things. These kids have the arts.”
An uncle helps Farmanara navigate a delicate topic
Creating a documentary in the Islamic Republic, where filmmakers must operate cautiously within the confines of the country’s stringent political climate, is a delicate affair.
And Farmanara wasn’t exactly a veteran when he started filming in December 2007. The young Iranian-American had no filmmaking experience before he decided to make a documentary about Iran, where he was born but left when he was 8 years old. A recent graduate of California State University at Northridge, Farmanara delayed completing his studies in order to take time off and move to the Iranian capital to make his film.
There he was mentored by his uncle, renowned Iranian director Bahman Farmanara, who introduced him to Pourazari’s unique theater troupe.
“It really interested me that there is a group of Afghan children who are working and acting in Iran,” says Farmanara, still in his 20s. “Meeting the director of the troupe and learning about the specific play they were working on alone made me commit 100 percent to filming them, even before I met the kids.”
"No Lips, No Laughter" focuses primarily on the experiences of one subset of young Afghan refugees living in Iran. But the trials, disappointments, and aspirations conveyed in the film reflect complexities that could be endured by an undocumented refugee living virtually anywhere.
Though addressing a politically sensitive issue within the Islamic Republic, the film manages to do so without directly referencing the Iranian government – adding yet one more graceful touch to an already touching film.