Iranian Director Farahnaz Sharifi Brings Memories to Life With ‘My Stolen Planet’: ‘The Archive Is a Part of My Soul, Part of My Body, Part of My Life’

Women dancing, women singing, women burning their hijab: these acts of defiance shape Iranian filmmaker Farahnaz Sharifi’s feature-length debut, “My Stolen Planet.” After premiering in Berlinale’s Panorama section and winning a second place Audience Award, the film now competes for the Golden Alexander at Thessaloniki International Doc Fest.

Prior to her feature, Sharifi made eight shorts while working as an editor for documentaries, including Firouzeh Khosrovani’s IDFA winning “Radiograph of a Family.”

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Using the essayistic style of a diary, “My Stolen Planet” presents the joy and vivaciousness in contrast with the regimented oppression in Tehran using both the director’s personal archives and 8mm recordings of strangers’ lives. The film is produced by Anke Petersen and Lilian Tietjen of JYOTI Film and co-produced by Farzad Pak of PakFilm, who was behind the Golden Bear winner “There Is No Evil,” directed by Mohammad Rasoulof. CAT&Docs is in charge of the film’s world sales.

Speaking to Variety, Sharifi says the titular metaphor came “from the dual life we lead in Iran: There’s their planet and then there’s our planet.”

The filmmaker was born in 1979, during the Islamic revolution in Iran, and has since heard stories of a different society, a different life. The separation between “you” and “they” is key in the way she describes it as a situation where “you have your values, your relations, while they have a different understanding of all these things. That’s why they ask us to forget the past and make their own history.” As such, history becomes a highly contested notion.

My Stolen Planet
“My Stolen Planet”

For Iranian women and documentarians like Sharifi, the relationship between forgetting and remembering is a lifeline to be preserved. Often, such oscillations become more obvious in old family photographs and forgotten video archives, seen by the director as her “direct connection with the past.”

It was in film school that she first worked with archival materials — for her thesis documentary, “Moon’s Voice,” about the famed Iranian singer Ghamar-ol-Molook Vaziri — and has done ever since. Known and unknown faces showed up in the frame as she collected and scanned film rolls that people left, buried or tried to burn after the revolution. She shares that at that time there was no intention to use this footage in a particular film, describing the feeling as “a kind of duty, to just save this history.”

Around 2018, she thought of including strangers’ archives in a feature-length project to show how people can still live more freely, dance, and enjoy togetherness like in the pre-revolution times, in the safe confinement of their homes. “This was some footage from our planet,” she admits.

Sharifi wrote, directed, shot and edited “My Stolen Planet,” but she is also present throughout, with her voice and face. “In a group or in a family gathering or celebration, I was always behind the camera,” says the director, sharing that she feels more comfortable as an observer with a habit of recording everything.

“After a while, I started doing it on purpose because I knew it’s very important to preserve these micro-narratives. It was the kind of history we needed to document for the future.”

These micro-histories and Sharifi’s personal story sit alongside videos of protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in 2022, opening up the film’s personal time-capsule to generations of Iranian women.

In 2020, Sharifi went to Germany as part of an artist residency to finish “My Stolen Planet” and had a rough cut done before women took to the streets in Iran. But she knew that in order to stay true to both herself and the film, she had to include the most recent developments.

“The main idea was still the same,” she says, “talking about women’s rights in Iran through my personal stories, none of that changed even if the second part of the film did.”

The personal is political, and this is true for Sharifi’s documentary even when she admits that “every time I talk about the film, it’s like I’m talking about my life. I try to gain some distance and consider them separate, but somehow, I still end up talking about my life. It is not easy.”

Working with the past and memories as raw material also implies a certain kind of duality, but unlike the split between personal and public life in Iran, that one reaches out to the future.

“My Stolen Planet” is replete with histories and women’s stories, but the director reminds us that archives are also tangible memories, with their textures and colors. “It’s not just something that relates to the past, nor something nostalgic. For me, archives are a sense of identity, and I like to be connected with history not only to find myself, but to identify myself. The archive is a part of my soul, part of my body, part of my life.”

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