Screening of "To Light a Candle"
Friday, May 16, 2014
Event hosted by: National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States
To Light a Candle
a Maziar Bahari film
Narrated by Nazanin Bonyadi
With a song by Mohsen Namjoo
Please join us for the New York Premiere of Maziar Bahari’s groundbreaking new documentary film, TO LIGHT A CANDLE, followed by a panel discussion and Q&A with the director. Please click the ticket icon above to order tickets.
To Light a Candle chronicles the lives of Iran’s Baha’is, who, through their commitment to spreading knowledge, have triumphed against unbelievable hardships. Through personal stories, powerful interviews and extensive archive footage, the film documents the establishment of the Baha’i Higher Institute of Education (BIHE), which has used the power of learning and teaching to strengthen its community and combat persecution.
“We knew that no one could stop us,” says Tahereh Berjis, recognizing the vital and powerful role education has had in supporting and strengthening Iran’s Baha’i community. Through interviews and powerful personal accounts gathered from exclusive archive footage, To Light a Candle offers unique insight into one of the most resilient communities in the world: the Baha’is of Iran. “All Iranian Baha’is joined hands and decided to support this institute,” says Berjis, remembering the establishment of the underground Baha’i Institute of Higher Education (BIHE) in 1987.
The Baha’i faith, which was founded in 1863, promotes, among other things, equality between men and women, a peaceful resolution to disputes and problems, and universal education. But in 1979, following the Islamic revolution, Baha’is were forbidden from attending or teaching at universities in Iran. To Light a Candle tells the story of the Baha’is’ commitment to learning and teaching – a dedication that, in the words of one of the film’s interviewees, Marjan Davoodi, “shows how a group of people can strive for knowledge despite all difficulties. They love to learn and teach – and are prepared to suffer for it.” Since the establishment of BIHE, thousands of Baha’is have benefitted from the institution’s teaching and educational values, including non-Iranian, non-Baha’i teachers, who have been drawn to the institution’s teaching because of its commitment to a non-violent way of life and because the experience of working with people who will risk everything to learn is a source of constant inspiration. “When the Baha’is realized that their youth were barred from universities, they refused to accept this injustice and took action,” recalls Berjis.
With the exception of a brief period in the mid-1900s, when Baha’is were tolerated and enjoyed relative acceptance under the Pahlavi leadership, the faith has faced constant persecution, from public humiliation in the late 19th century to the brutality of the late 1990s-early 2000s that saw hundreds of Baha’is imprisoned, tortured and executed. To Light a Candle exposes the tyranny of Iran’s religious authorities today, but also traces how this paranoia and intolerance has characterized much of Iran’s recent history, with the rise of Ayatollah Khomenei taking a particular toll on the country. Documenting the lives of Baha’is living in Iran is almost impossible, but, through archive material, personal stories and extensive interviews from members of the Baha’i diaspora in Canada and the United States, the film offers a gripping account of the history and determination of the Baha’is. Those who smuggled archive footage out of the country often did so at great personal risk.
Propaganda shown on Iranian state television and supported by Ayatollah Khamenei depicts the Baha’is as a cult and a threat to Islamic society. In recent years, there have been further arrests of Baha’i teachers and followers. Among them was Kamran Rahimian and his wife, accused of “endangering the security of the nation” and “promoting moral corruption”. A year later his brother Kayvon was also imprisoned.
“We made the choice, and we are proud of it, ” Kayvon wrote in a letter to his daughter Gina on the way to Evin prison. His brother Kamran spoke to his uncle of his determination to return to Iran following his studies in Ottawa, committed to passing on what he had learned to others in Iran. His voice, and the voices of so many others in this film, reveals the enduring spirit of the Baha’i faith, but also of the human quest for learning. It gives a glimpse, too, of hope for the future of Iran’s Baha’is and other minority communities in Iran. “Injustice will not last forever,” insists Kayvon in a statement released online prior to his arrest, and this hope, however slight, keeps the dedication and spirit of both the Baha’i community and other human rights activists burning strong.
Maziar Bahari is an Iranian Canadian journalist and filmmaker. He has produced a number of documentaries and news reports for broadcasters around the world including BBC, Channel4, HBO, Discovery, Canal+ and NHK and was a reporter for Newsweek from 1998 to 2011.
Bahari graduated with a degree in communications from Concordia University in Montreal in 1993. Soon after, he made his first film The Voyage of the Saint Louis (1994). His films include Paint! No Matter What (1999), Football, Iranian Style (2001), And Along Came a Spider (2002), Mohammad and the Matchmaker (2004), Targets: Reporters in Iraq (2005), Greetings from Sadr City (2007), Online Ayatollah (2008), The Fall of a Shah (2009), An Iranian Odyssey (2010), From Cyrus to Ahmadinejad (2011) and Forced Confessions (2012). His production company, Off-Centre Productions, was launched in 2000. A retrospective of Bahari’s films was organized by the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam in November 2007.Bahari has been a jury member for a number of international film festivals. In September 2009, Bahari was nominated for the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord.
During the 2009 Iranian Election Protests he was arrested without charge, and detained in Evin prison for 118 days. Then They Came for Me, Bahari’s family memoir, was published by Random House in June 2011. Rosewater, a film by Jon Stewart based on the book and starring Gael Garcia Bernal, is currently in post-production. In 2013, Bahari launched Iranwire.com, which focuses on current affairs, culture and politics, and is available in both Persian and English. Journalism for Change, a platform devoted to citizen journalism and the promotion of quality and innovative reporting across the globe, will be launched in 2014.