Rosewater, Jon Stewart’s directorial debut, screened early in Tech's Ryan Family Auditorium on Friday afternoon. Afterward, the film's feature subject, Iranian journalist and filmmaker Maziar Bahari, joined the audience for a Q&A with Medill professor Jack Doppelt.
The film is based on Bahari’s book Then They Came for Me, an account of his family history and his 118-day detention in an Iranian prison, written with his wife Aimee Molloy. Bahari was arrested in 2009 and accused of being an American spy for filming government violence against Iranian civilians. After a disputed election in which then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defeated opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, protests erupted under the banner of the “Green Movement,” leading to a government crackdown and significant violence.
The film, directed by comedian and host of The Daily Show Jon Stewart, starred Mexican actor Gael García Bernal in the role of Bahari. Stewart took a summer-long hiatus from The Daily Show in 2013 to shoot the movie in Jordan. The movie will have a wider release on Nov. 14.
A&O Productions and the Medill Undergraduate Student Advisory Council (MUSAC), with support from the film's distributor Open Road Films, partnered to host the screening.
"I left feeling very hopeful about the future ... of journalism," Medill freshman Natalie Escobar said. "[The fact that] people are willing to take such immense personal risks for the sake of getting out a story ... was very inspiring."
The Q&A after the film touched on topics including the film’s faithfulness to real events as well as the role of journalism and media technology in recent and future revolutions.
Bahari praised Stewart’s directing.
“Jon Stewart is a genius,” he said, describing both the film’s general quality and its closeness to the book and real events.
About 80 percent of the movie was very close to material from the book, Bahari said. “It’s a very close adaptation.”
Of course, scenes like private conversations between Bahari’s interrogator and his superiors had to be made up, simply because Bahari wasn’t “privy” to those conversations.
When the conversation turned to the state of Iran today, Bahari remained optimistic and praised the role of technology in bringing change.
“The situation ebbs and flows,” but “in the long run I am very optimistic about Iran,” he said, describing the Iranian people as educated and more open to new ideas than in the past. Iran has moved away from the more repressive regime of the past. “This move was expedited in the late 1990s with the advent of social media and media technology and the ways people can communicate with the rest of the world,” he said.
Doppelt and Bahari also touched on the moments of humor in the film, a relatively common motif throughout.
“Humor comes from seeing the ridiculousness of a situation,” Bahari said.
Several times in the film, he would simply burst out laughing when his interrogations became more intense or his captors tried to psychologically break him.
Bahari said, “Dictatorships are really funny. Whenever you think you have the monopoly on the truth, it’s really ridiculous.”