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HBO's Spotlight On Iran to Air "Letters to the President"

Press Release by HBO



A scene from "Letters To The President," a documentary about Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (center) by Czech-Canadian filmmaker Peter Lom


Film Is Part Of A Spotlight On Iran Airing on HBO 2 In June

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - the first Iranian leader in a generation who is not a religious cleric - is one of the most controversial figures on the world stage.  Though embraced by some Iranians - particularly the rural poor - as a "man of the people," he also divides opinion within his country Filmmaker Petr Lom provides an up-close view of this complex leader when LETTERS TO THE PRESIDENT debuts WEDNESDAY JUNE 10 (8:00-9:00 p.m. ET/PT), two days before Ahmadinejad stands for reelection, exclusively on HBO2.

Other HBO2 play dates:  June 13 (11:00 p.m.), 15 (8:00 a.m.) and 26 (5:00 p.m.)

LETTERS TO THE PRESIDENT is one of three documentaries about Iran debuting on consecutive Wednesdays on HBO2 in June.  The others are: "The Queen and I" (debuting June 17), chronicling the friendship between filmmaker Nahid Persson Sarvestani the deposed Queen Farah, wife of the late Shah of Iran, and "Be Like Others" (June 24), an intimate look at the world of Iraninan transsexuals living under strict Islamic rule.

Peter Lom
As the only foreign documentary filmmaker granted permission to shoot President Ahmadinejad, Lom was given extraordinary access joining him on several of his populist trips to the countryside to capture the widely varying attitudes of Iranians toward their multi-faceted leader.  The result is vivid snapshot of the personalities, policies and promises that shape today's Iran.  In the course of his travels, President Ahmadinejad encourages people to write him outlining their misfortunes and receives letters that include everything from pleas for loans and medical attention, to entreaties for help in finding housing and jobs. In one missive, for example, a 16-year-old boy says his family has no money and goes to bed hungry every night.  According to a staff member, the president has received about ten million letters, and responded to nearly three-quarters of them.  The film reveals this "success" rate as largely propaganda, for very few people actually seem to get results from their letters.

LETTERS TO THE PRESIDENT visits Ahmadinejad's birthplace, Aradan, a town of 20,000, where the residents speak proudly of how he grew up to be a university professor, then Mayor of Tehran and finally President.  One supporter says that some people complain about inflation and the price of rice, but would still vote for him again, observing that no one answered their letters before Ahmadinejad, while now there is a whole team dedicated to the task.

At the Presidential Letter Processing Center in Tehran, letters are sorted by the gender of the author, for only  individuals of the same sex may review them.  The readers are Basiji students, a religious paramilitary group that not only professes great love for their country, but are also considered trustworthy with the peoples' secrets.

Asked to comment on declarations from the United States and European Union that the elections are neither free nor fair, Ahmadinejad says, "The world's opinion is not so important.  What matters is the people's decision."   Some Iranians in the film echo his distrust of the foreign press, declaring that Ahmadinejad is brave, is interested in the people, gives good advice and has advanced nuclear power.   They say Ahmadinejad has succeeded in foreign policy, but should focus more on domestic issues, specifically inflation.  Of course, in Iran what people say and actually mean is never obvious: one man professes support for Ahmadinejad, all the while he is voting for the President's opponent.

Factions seem to divide between young and old, as well as between city and country.  In Tehran, for instance, young men and women are extremely unlikely to embrace Ahmadinejad, arguing that those in the countryside write him, because they "are limited and can't see."  Grievances include censorship and limits on freedom, his lack of response to women's issues, and the rules he imposes about wearing jewelry on both men and women.

LETTERS TO THE PRESIDENT had its world premiere at the Berlinale Film Festival last February and is currently screening at festivals worldwide. 

Director Petr Lom's previous documentaries include "On a Tightrope," (Sundance Film Festival 2007) and  "Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan." He is a former academic with a Ph.D. in political philosophy from Harvard University.

LETTERS TO THE PRESIDENT is directed, produced and edited by Petr Lom; executive producer, Behrooz Hashemian; co-producers, ARTE France and Point du Jour; consulting editors, Anna Contomitros and Jean Tsien.

see the preview

... Payvand News - 06/01/09 ... --

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