Following Iran’s disputed presidential election this past summer, Neda Soltani was shot and killed on the streets of Tehran — an awful incident captured on a 90-second cell phone camera video that ripped across the blogosphere over the next 24 hours. In an instant, she became the face of a powerful protest movement that threatened President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the hard-line theocratic government’s hold on power. While the revolution unfolded on Twitter and the Internet, and a fuller portrait of the young woman came into focus relatively quickly, in Polaroid-like fashion, it’s still worth revisiting her story — especially for those not plugged into the sort of exhaustive coverage that Andrew Sullivan and other writers labored to provide in real time.
In affecting fashion, this short-form title, part of PBS’ Frontline investigative series, explores the death of Soltani, and in doing so also delves into a number of broader, unanswered questions in the aftermath of the greatest upheaval in Iran since the 1979 revolution. While giving ample voice to one of Soltani’s best friends, Delbar Tavakoli, as well as former prime minister Mohsen Sazegara — no fan of Ahmadinejad — A Death in Tehran isn’t merely subjective, some exercise in liberal grief mop-up. A columnist for an Iranian paper that supports the current government provides editorial balance to Christian Science Monitor‘s Scott Peterson and others, who talk about an interesting rumor that sprouted up just before June’s voting — about two million pens with disappearing ink being imported, to help vanish the votes for challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi.
By far the most engrossing material, however, concentrates more directly on Soltani; there’s a phone interview with her Turkish boyfriend, prior to his arrest on trumped-up charges of somehow having had something to do with her shooting, and a sit-down chat with the doctor (who has since fled the country) who tried to save her life. The picture that emerges is of a simple young woman, hardly radicalized, who merely wanted better things for her country — more transparency, and openness to the rest of the world. While 11 protester deaths were ultimately confirmed by the Iranian government (hospital records indicate at least three times that amount, with dozens of others missing, and said to have been “disappeared”), the saddest specter looms in the movie’s final moments, when Soltani’s art instructor — in whose arms she expired — is forced to recant on state television her shooting at the hands of rogue security forces. An evenhanded contradiction of Iran’s official narrative, this title provides evidence to the contrary. It’s a shame those responsible do not have to answer for their crimes.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, A Death in Tehran, originally broadcast on television in November of last year, comes to DVD presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, with a simple English stereo audio track that more than adequately handles the meager aural demands of the title. There are unfortunately no related supplemental bonus features, though a 15-minute Frontline segment from Uganda, highlighting the challenges facing the world’s largest population of mountain gorillas, rounds out the hour-long title. It’s a weird fit with the Iranian material, no doubt, but certainly not uninteresting. To purchase A Death in Tehran or any other PBS Frontline title, call (800) PLAY-PBS or click here; to instead purchase the DVD via Amazon, meanwhile, click here. A- (Movie) C- (Disc)