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Sepideh: Reaching for the Stars

Who would have thought a low-budget doco about patriarchy in Iran would leave you with a smile?
By Tom Clift
January 12, 2015
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Sepideh: Reaching for the Stars

Who would have thought a low-budget doco about patriarchy in Iran would leave you with a smile?
By Tom Clift
January 12, 2015
  shares
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Every evening Sepideh Hooshyar looks up at the night sky and marvels at what she sees. An amateur stargazer, she wants desperately to be an astronaut. Failing that, she’d like to become an astronomer, although for a girl in provincial Iran, one seems about as likely as the other. Named for its determined teenage subject, this shoestring doco reveals in stark, day-to-day exchanges the inequality faced by women living in conservative Iran. And yet somehow, the film leaves you feeling inspired.

First time Danish director Berit Madsen shot the film over a two to three year period, beginning when the project’s namesake was 16 years old. When we first see Sepideh, she’s watching a documentary about Iranian-American engineer and businesswoman Anousheh Ansari, who in 2006 became the first Iranian to visit outer space. Ansari is one of Sepideh’s four big heroes, along with her late father, Albert Einstein, and the head of the local astronomy club Mr. Kabiri. It’s Kabiri who encourages Sepideh to attend university in order to pursue her cosmic ambition.

Unfortunately, for Sepideh, the future seems to be slipping out of reach. Since her father’s unexpected death, the household has been brought to the edge of bankruptcy, with no help coming from her paternal uncles. There’s also the matter of her mother’s brother Hadi, who disapproves of his niece leaving the house after dark with the boys in her astronomy club – even going so far as to threaten to kill her if she does anything improper. What’s truly unsettling about the threat is that you can tell Hadi thinks he’s doing the right thing. It’s an example of how deeply ingrained patriarchal attitudes in the country are.

Despite this, Madsen keeps things relatively optimistic. The film’s thesis can basically be boiled down to ‘believe in yourself and you can achieve anything’; whether or not that’s entirely realistic, Sepideh’s refusal to abandon her dream is certainly worthy of applause. As she and Mr. Kabiri petition the local government to finish a half-completed observatory, you’re filled with hope that perhaps Sepideh’s generation will be the one that brings about change. Until then, she’ll keep reaching for the stars.

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