Bookmark and Share

A DIRECTOR'S CUT: Hollywood Director Cyrus Nowrasteh Brings Fereidoune Sahabjam's Best Selling Novel To The Screen




© Shabnam Rezaei & Melody Khadavi for Cyrus Nowrasteh's photo &

photocomposition ©DK



"The first cut is the deepest, baby I know
The first cut is the deepest"

-         Lyrics to Cat Steven's First Cut is the Deepest

As a Student at the University in Strasbourg, France I came across a fellow French friend of mine studying political science. I forgot his name since but not the name of the Iranian writer/journalist whose book entitled
"Je N'ai Plus de Larmes pour pleurer" aka " I have no more tears to cry" he lent me eagerly to read. His name was Fereidoune Sahabjam and his book was about one of the young survivors of the Iran-Iraq War, a War veteran of hardly nine years of age ...


Of course I had heard stories of young Iranian kids sent to the War front before but no journalist up to then had tried to convey the mindset, social and psychological side effects to which these young soldiers had been subject to. This was not the first time a totalitarian regime would have recourse to innocent children to cowardly defend its own existence and prolong its survival. Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and many third world dictatorships had done so before and alas still do in some countries today. However before the advent of September 11Th that to a great degree has changed and enhanced the Western Perception of the Middle East and its regional conflicts, the Iran-Iraq war was just a distant conflict that hardly concerned Europeans or Americans for that matter. Both countries were often confused on the map even by news anchors reporting on the conflict. Nevertheless I was touched and happy to see that finally someone had made the effort of informing the free world on the realities of one of the darkest and bloodiest conflicts of the last Quarter of the Century: The Very First Persian Gulf War between Iran and Iraq (1980-1988). I followed Sahebjam's writings in the years that followed in the French Press in particular in which he contributed to such newspapers as Le Monde or Le Figaro and on French TV where he was a regular commentator on LCI ( La Chaine de L'info) and discovered a suave and elegant man speaking with no accent and often with great objectivity about the situation in his native country Iran. It contrasted from that of most Iranian journalists at the time who understandingly were often passionate and easily carried away by their own personal feelings or opinions. That does not go to say that Sahebjam did not have an opinion or feelings about the subjects he covered but he kept the necessary distance that was soon to earn him a solid reputation as an investigative journalist and War correspondent on Iran but also in the middle east at large. However it was only in the mid 1980's that Sahebjam was to deliver one of his most haunting investigative works in a book entitled The Stoning of Soraya M. Sahebjam based his book on accounts related to him by residents of a small Iranian village where in 1986 a woman was stoned to death after being falsely accused of adultery. Sahebjam chose not to identify the village and changed the names of several characters. But few could deny the power of the book's horrific story, or the fact that stonings did indeed occur in Iran. The book became an instant best seller in France, Germany, the UK and later in the United States.


Journalist for the Iranian Press, Sahebjam was interpolated by Revolutionary Iranian students on a University Campus in Paris on May 12th 1979. He was later to be sentenced to a death Fatwa by the New Iranian Revolutionary court. A death threat that did not discourage the Brave Journalist to return to Iran incognito and investigate on sensitive issues regarding Tehran's Islamic Regime ©Paris Match


The true story needed little dramatization and not surprisingly Sahebjam was soon approached by several film directors who saw in it a potential for a motion picture. However in the mid 1980's neither Iran nor Iranians were seen as victims of a regime they so popularly brought to power. The U.S. Hostage crisis had vilified the Iranian community at large including in the struggling Diaspora which had fled Iran's theocracy in a bid for freedom and a better life. Besides another Best Seller had contributed in  typecasting Iranians as dangerous fanatics who wholeheartingly supported their government and the revolution. The personal account Not Without My Daughter by American Betty Mahmoudy was to create paranoia and fear in the West towards Iranian men and soon the book was optioned as a Hollywood Production with Sally Fields and Alfred Molina in the title roles. The film was less controversial than the book and had to a great degree avoided much of the books prejudicial approach and vehemence towards Iranian people and their culture it claimed to depict. At best it reminded much of the Cold War Era Hollywood films opposing American values of Freedom and Human Rights with those of totalitarian communist regimes. The film did well at the Box Office and even if it did not earn any Oscars, the heap in the press was enough to generate public outrage in Iran and amongst Iranians who had just survived a bloody 8 year War with Iraq and whose nationalistic feelings were not prepared to further criticism in the Western Press.

HOLLYWOOD S'ENGAGE: Iranian and American Cast of Cyrus Nowrasteh's Film
© & photocomposition ©DK

This understandable reaction was however to sustain the false impression that the people of Iran condoned the behavior of  Betty Mahmoudy's Iranian husband and traditional fundamentalist family. The Screen Option on Sahebjam's book was therefore left in the drawers until he was once again contacted by
Cyrus Nowrasteh, an American Iranian screenwriter/ director working in Hollywood. Nowrasteh's family also fled Iran shortly after the Revolution of 1979 and his dual Iranian-American culture and understanding of Hollywood's mechanism's convinced Sahabjam to sell him the option on his book. Nowrasteh and his wife Betsy Giffen wrote a script based on it. The financing came together late last year and Cyrus flew to Jordan in December to search for locations to shoot. While Shooting on location in Jordan (as a Setting for Iran), Nowrasteh had invited Sahebjam to visit the set by flying in from Paris, however no one suspected the poor health of the globe trotter war correspondent he had been for years. News arrived in late March that Sahebjam had suffered a stroke and died in Paris. The movie was shot in two months with an American and Iranian cast ( see full cast)  including film stars Shohreh Aghdashloo (Oscar Nominee for House of Sand and Fog), veteran Iranian film icon's Parviz Sayyad and Vida Gahremani to name a few, while the title roles of Soraya and Sahebjam are played respectively by American Iranian Mozhan Marnò and American actor James Caviezel ( He played Jesus in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ).



Human Rights Activist Nazanin Afshin Jam has been at the forefront of the Campaign to Stop Executions of Young Minors in Iran ( Read The Struggle Continues) . While firmly opposing war mongering statements against her native country Nazanin continues to strongly remind President Ahmadinejad of his obligations and commitments to the respect of the United Nations Human Rights Charter to which Iran is a signatory.  Nazanin Afshin Jam Photo's ©SCE & Jay Jonroy NEWROZ films Photocomposition © DK



Nowrasteh's bold film is also a timely one in that it also highlights the dramatic situation regarding Human Rights in Iran which has been alerting such notable and respected organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. It is also the first time that Iranian actors openly challenge Iran's theocracy by denouncing the regime's responsibility in maintaining unjust and inhumane laws unfit to civilized and universal standards of justice.  


In recent years other Iranians Artists in the public eye have tried to draw the attention of the International community to the ever growing and alerting situation in regard to Human Rights in Iran and particularly in regard to child Executions conducted on minors. The most notable voice of this discontent has been expressed by former Miss World Canada 2003, Nazanin Afshin Jam. Thanks to her tireless efforts through her apolitical and non profit organization Stop Child Executions she has managed to gradually unite Iranian public opinion both inside and particularly outside Iran in finding common ground for a just cause that transcends political differences that have crippled the Iranian civil society to date. Despite an impressing success in saving the life of another Iranian namesake Nazanin Fatehi in Iran, her struggle is far from being finished for alas many more similar cases of minors on a death list ( See recent tragic fate of Makwan Moloudzadeh) continue to be submitted to her organization. 


The Hollywood mobilization of Iranian film community in reminding us of the tragic fate of  Soraya M. as well as the principles for which the Stop Child Executions campaign has been launched in recent years are only a reminder of the ever-growing concern of the Iranian Diaspora in regard to Human Rights violations in their homeland. If many in the Iranian Diaspora (including these activists) understandably stand against any form of foreign military retaliation against Iran (particularly as a solution or even last resort to the current nuclear crisis that opposes it to the West), an ever more growing majority is adamant in asking Iran's authorities to abide to international laws in regard to Human Rights and children in particular since Iran is a signatory of the Article 37(a) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that :


Child executions violate international law

"[No] capital punishment... shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age"



However what is today applied to children is as outrageous and shocking as the way capital punishment is conducted in Iran towards adults male or female. In a country that prides itself for its ancient and great civilization and which through the ages has been  acknowledged internationally as a cradle of humanistic values celebrated by its poets and philosophers, one can only wonder how its leaders are at odds with all norms of tolerance and respect for international norms of justice.


Although Iran's president claims that Iran's government and judiciary hardly interfere in the private lives of their compatriots, countless reports on Human Rights violations continue to surface on a regular pace. Rape or adultery however condemnable on moral grounds is not punishable by death and even less by stoning that leads inevitably to death in any civilized society.


The memory of the unknown Soraya M. very much like the unknown Soldier will continue to haunt the Iranian civil society's consciousness like an open blood stained scar for which the Iranian judiciary and leadership will be held accountable as long as they overlook the reality of the backward laws and behaviors reminiscent of the middle ages and not that of the civilized country for which it has been admired throughout its long and ancient history.









Authors Notes:


The Official website : The Stoning of Soraya M.

The Book: The Stoning of Soraya M. by Freidoune Sahebjam

Parental Guide:
Rated R for a disturbing sequence of cruel and brutal violence, and brief strong language.


Recommended Human Rights Campaign:


Stop Child Executions : Blog and Website

The Struggle Continues !:Nazanin Afshin Jam's Stop Child Execution Campaign by Darius KADIVAR


Recommended Watching:


Trailer for The Stoning of Soraya M. (youtube)

A report on the Movie on Persian PNN Show Shabahang (VOA) (youtube)
Nazanin Says Ahmadinejad will face "Wall of Shame" at UN (


Recommended Readings:


Persian Golden Boys In Hollywood by Darius KADIVAR


On Fereidoune Sahabjam


Bells Toll for Sahebjam by Darius KADIVAR

On Stoning in Iran:


The Struggle Continues ! : Nazanin Afshin Jam's Stop Child Execution Campaign by Darius KADIVAR


On Cyrus Nowrasteh


An Interview with Cyrus Nowrasteh by Darius KADIVAR and Shabnam REZAEI (PersianMirror)

Nailing the Script: Hollywood Screenwriter Cyrus Nowrasteh's new challenges by Darius KADIVAR


On Hollywood, Iran and Politics


Banned Hollywood Dream: Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani troubled over a Body of Lies By Darius KADIVAR

Stoning Bush: Oliver Stone's Bio Epic on US President by Darius KADIVAR

Prisoner of Conscience: Akbar Ganji and Costa Gavras' Confession By Darius KADIVAR

Syriana Breaks Iranian Stereotypes by Darius KADIVAR
George Clooney's Great Escape! by Darius KADIVAR
By George ! U.N. Messenger of Peace, George Clooney, Expresses Wish to Visit Iran by Darius KADIVAR
Sean Penn's Last Frontier by Darius KADIVAR
The House of Saddam by Darius KADIVAR

Between Two Rivers: Shohreh Aghdashloo cast as Saddam's wife in HBO-BBC mini tv series by Darius KADIVAR
Mona's Dream by Darius KADIVAR
"America So Beautiful": Babak Shokrian's bitter sweet look on the American Dream by Darius KADIVAR

ShockWave Aghdashloo's Dina Araz hits France by Darius KADIVAR
BINOCHE FEMME DANGEREUSE!: Juliette Binoche's Iran Visits Stir Two MPs' Xenophobia by Darius KADIVAR
MARZIEH: At 82 Is MKO Diva Bidding Farewell to Political Activism or to Music Career? by Darius KADIVAR
Iranian Expat Celebrities get passionate over French Presidential Elections by Darius KADIVAR

New Faces in French Politics of Persian Heritage by Darius KADIVAR

Eye of the Tiger and the Persepolis Generation by Darius KADIVAR

U.S. cast for Satrapi's Persepolis announced by Darius KADIVAR
BREAKING THE WAVES: Iranian Women of the Diaspora Seduce French Media By Darius KADIVAR

Iranian Diaspora Intelligentsia Unite Against Islamic Republic's Holocaust Revisionism by Darius KADIVAR

Iran, Jews and the Holocaust The beneficent legacy of Persia remembered by Abbas Milani (San Francisco Gate)


About the Author: Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant. He is also contributes to OCPC Magazine in LA/US and to the London Based IC Publications The Middle East Magazine and Persian Heritage Magazine.

© Copyright 2008 (All Rights Reserved)