Renown Iranian director and film-maker Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s recent work is simply titled “The Gardener” but it is about a topic anything but simple.
The garden, or gardener, in question is Eona, a Papua New Guinea gardener working at the Baha’i World Centre gardens on Mount Carmel, Haifa. And the film is an attempt to introduce to Iranian audiences, who may have only heard half-truths, propaganda or outright lies, to the Baha’i Faith.
Makhmalbaf says: “Many of us Iranians know more about religions and schools of thought from Indian, Chinese, or Japanese origin than religions that have grown out of Iran. Maybe this has been willed by censorship. The Gardener is an attempt to break this censorship.”
But the film, produced in a surreal docu-drama style, goes beyond that. Through the two perspectives offered by the father and son team of Mohsen and Maysan Makhmalbaf the audience is presented with the two starkly contrasting attitudes of Iranians today towards not only the Baha’i Faith specifically but religion in general.
Nor surprisingly, the newer generation is sick and tired of religion, having had their fill of it through the suffocating theocratic Islamic government of Iran. The older generation still cling to the ideal that religion can be a positive force in the world. The dialectic nature of the film succeeds in drawing in the audience and engaging them on a very deep and personal level.
Makhmalbaf hasn’t been very popular with the Islamic regime and this recent work will make him even less so.
CBS aired an interfaith religion special called “What They Believe: Hindus, Zoroastrians, Baha’is“. This program is part of a Religion & Culture series from CBS and the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission (IBC). You can watch the 30 minute program at CBS:
As the title suggests, the program introduces these three lesser known religious traditions of Hindus, Zoroastrians and Baha’is among an American audience. For Baha’is, the program is well timed as it coincides with the centenary celebrations of Abdu’l-Baha’s trip to the US and will dovetail with these efforts to raise general awareness of the Baha’i Faith there.
Anand Venkatkrishnan, a second-generation immigrant from India talks about the importance of action and how faith is more about what you do than what you believe. The program also visits Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam (Hindu Temple) where Mysorekar a abhisheka ceremony is performed.
We meet Roshan and Rohinton Rivetna who moved to the US to find themselves isolated from their faith community. Slowly they established a new 700 member community and their son, a second-generation American Zoroastrian serves his faith as an architect designing temples combining tradition and modern designs. Since Zoroastrians must marry other Zoroastrians, the small size of the worldwide community (only 125,000) presents a challenge.
The Wilmette Temple features prominently as a Baha’i landmark and symbol. Several Baha’is including S. Valerie Dana, a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States (and an officer, Deputy Secretary) are interviewed.
After a brief introduction of the Baha’i Faith, Scott Conrad, the Project Manager of the Baha’i Temple’s new Welcome Center, and architect for the US Baha’i National Center shares the history of the mother temple of the West. Two members of the Baha’i National Communications Office, Glen Fullmer & Ellen Price, also participated in the production.
The documentary “I Am” is the surprising work of Hollywood director Tom Shadyac, better known for slapstick comedies. “I Am” is about his own personal journey and transformation from the typical Hollywood elite with a 7,000 square foot mansion to a gnawing feeling that there is more to life.
Shadyac’s sense of humour still shines through as he doesn’t take himself too seriously even when he is asking essential life questions.
The film starts off by asking, What is wrong with the world and what can we do to fix it? What is humankind’s basic nature?
At times the film veers into new age pseudo-science like the Global Coherence Initiative or yogurt in a petri dish being affected by Shadyac’s emotional state. But the main thesis is the interconnectedness of all things and the consequences that has for everything.
As a Baha’is the documentary was both maddeningly frustrating to watch and uplifting. Frustrating because the unity and oneness of manking, and therefore, its interconnectedness is self-evident to us through our theology and to see it require exposition seems a tad pedantic.
Uplifting because through efforts like this, it is evident that while there are many things wrong with the world, an ever advancing civilization is slowly becoming cognizant of this truth. While it may seem imperceptible at times, such an enlightenment is gaining momentum and will inevitably envelop every single human.
A few months ago the Baha’is of Washington DC organized an event in support of the Baha’is of Iran. The evening featured Ms. Shohreh Aghdashloo, Dr. Azar Nafisi, Dr. Dwight Bashir, Layli Miller-Muro, as well as theatrical and musical performances.
Here is a short video of the Emmy award winning and Oscar Nominated actress, Shohreh Aghdashloo, speaking via video from Los Angeles to the gathering in DC:
Ms. Aghdashloo is featured in the upcoming film, Mona’s Dream, about the life and martyrdom of Mona Mahmudnizhad. She will be playing the role of Mona’s mother. The film is set to (hopefully) go into production this year.
Here is a quick recap of the evening:
More recently, the Universal House of Justice released a short statement asking Baha’i communities around the world to observe a special day of prayer on May 14th in honor of the unjustly persecuted Iranian Baha’is:
It grieves our hearts to contemplate the passing of yet another year in which the seven former members of the Yaran remain imprisoned on baseless charges for which the authorities have no evidence whatsoever. The approach of the second anniversary of their incarceration calls to mind the multifarious forms of oppression being visited upon the members of the Baha’i community in Iran of all ages and walks of life, including interrogations, summary arrests and imprisonment, deprivation of the means to a livelihood, wanton destruction of property, and the denial of education to Baha’i students. The heroic steadfastness of the friends in Iran in the face of such relentless persecution inspires their fellow believers around the globe to redouble their efforts to serve humanity and contribute to its material and spiritual progress. It has also led to the gradual, but undeniable, awakening of the conscience of fair- minded Iranians, who have been moved to express their concern at the violation of the human rights of their Baha’i compatriots.
We call upon the Baha’is of the world to organize special meetings of prayer around 14 May for the indomitable followers of Baha’u’llah in Iran, indeed, for all the people in that blessed land who are similarly subject to oppression, that the Hand of Divine Providence may grant them relief from their long ordeal. To this end we too offer our fervent supplications at the Sacred Threshold.