A reporter goes home to get inside a dramatic revolution

In Iran, a theocracy where nothing is private, everything personal is also political, from makeup to wedding parties.

In what CNN has rightfully dubbed a remarkable documentary, its own chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, adopts the personal approach in "Revolutionary Journey" (Sunday, Feb. 27, CNN, 10-11 p.m.) when she returns to her native land to chronicle a dramatic story: the ongoing Iranian revolution.

The triumph of reformist candidates in this week's elections culminates two decades of struggle set in motion by the overthrow of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 1979. Ms. Amanpour, who has covered the struggles within Iran since 1991, takes the unusual route of telling a political story through the lens of her personal experience.

"I'm taking a personal risk really, intellectually and creatively, doing it this way," says Amanpour, "but I'm doing it in order to try to personalize and humanize one of the most incredible stories of the later part of the 20th century...."

Amanpour hopes Americans will develop a new appreciation for the real Iran.

"I'm trying to put it in a perspective that Americans will understand, given the 20 years of animosity now between Iran and the United States," she says.

Amanpour, whose family left in 1979 to escape the revolution, takes the audience inside the lives of friends and relatives, including her family home, which has been expropriated by the government. The film details both the passion and disillusionment of the generation who fought to overthrow what was perceived as an oppressive regime under the former Shah.

The Ayatollah Khomeini came to power on a wave of support from students and the middle class, who believed he held their freedom and future in his hands.

Amanpour's cousin, Sori, a broadcast journalist who remained in Iran after the revolution, is the voice of this generation when she says that the Ayatollah betrayed their dreams. Sori lost her job for being too outspoken, and she witnessed the creation of a regime that institutionalized the view of women as second-class citizens.

Amanpour's hopes, and those of others profiled in the film, lie with the next generation of students, who are pushing for real freedom and democratic change.

"It really is ... extraordinary what is going on, from the incredible freedom of the press to what the youngsters are doing, to the students taking to the streets and openly challenging authority," she says.

This week's elections frame the story.

"In the last three years, the entire political dynamic has changed in Iran," Amanpour says. She points out that nearly 70 percent of Iran's population is under the age of 30. It is this generation that the film shows taking to the streets and demanding change, just as the American youths did in the 1960s.

At a time when the US is trying to reevaluate its role all over the world, Amanpour says the Iranian story has particular poignancy:

"The most important message is to see an Iran that Americans have not seen yet," she says, "how the young people in Iran are working and struggling for freedom."

She would like to replace the image of angry radicals who took Americans hostage during President Carter's term in office. "There is much more to Iran than the clich and the stereotype that perhaps Americans get as their usual fare.... It's a textbook case of a country that has never known democracy."

Amanpour takes a camera into the lives of the young and middle class who live double lives. She follows them to Western-style parties and events, where once inside the safety of a private home, chadors (the Iranian wrap required for all women in public places) come off, and men and women mingle freely.

What is clear is that this is a society searching for the most basic meanings of freedom. For the first time in its history, Iran is "trying to have a proper democracy, a proper government of the people."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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