Photo: Maryam Zaree and producer Alex Tondowski with a Hot Docs programmer during a Q&A at Hot Docs 2019

Born in Evin: A Personal Quest for Truth Transcends a Multigenerational Past

A Hot Docs 2019 Film Review

by Marisa Sittheeamorn

The smell of coffee wafts through the air as the excited chatter of Hot Docs festival goers bounces off the sound proofed walls of the Lightbox theatre. It’s 10:15am on a Monday morning, and the theatre is tightly packed for the 10:45am screening of Maryam Zaree’s documentary Born In Evin.

Zaree, who was born in the infamous Iranian torture prison of Evin during the Islamic revolution, takes viewers along on her personal journey to bring together the missing pieces of her birth story and time in prison. At the age of two, Zaree and her mother gained asylum status in Germany, where they have since built a safe and successful life. Since then, Zaree has established herself as an actress and director based in Berlin. She is best known for her roles in 4 Blocks, Club Europa, and Bruder. Born In Evin is her first directorial debut.

Still from Born in Evin , Source: Berlinale

While Zaree and her mother both embrace their current lives in Germany, Zaree’s curiosity of her early years intensifies as she grows older. However, her mother remains silent and unwilling to pass on the memories of Evin. The radio silence leaves Maryam no choice, but to embark on a mission for answers herself. The film beautifully and comprehensively catalogues the various measures and roller-coaster of emotions Zaree must endure to come to terms with her past.

As she meets with her father (who was released from Evin several years later, but is no longer married to her mother), family, friends, former prisoners, psychologists, and sociologists across Europe and around the world, Maryam comes to the realization that the secrets of her past are shared by many. While her story is personal, it represents the story of an entire generation.

Still from Born in Evin , Source: Berlinale

In the middle of the screening, I can’t help but notice the undivided attention and polarizing emotional reactions of the audience from start to finish. Zaree captivates and impresses the room with her ability to speak four languages, nonchalantly switching between English, German, French, and Persian in various settings. She weaves together voice overs, dated home videos, interviews, and B-roll with some illusionary and poetic shots of herself in nature, producing an intimate portrayal of her desperation to learn about her past and unraveling the burden of trauma her family continues to face.

The film is moving and timely, yet appropriately hilarious at times. Born In Evin does not exist to reinforce western perceptions of Iran, but instead serves as a relatable ode to the millions of first, second, and third generation of refugees and immigrants trying to move on from their haunted pasts.

Born in Evin is only one example of the thousands of untold stories shared by minority communities scattered around the globe. Its is the multilingual, multicultural and multigenerational stories like that of Maryam Zaree that Farsi Cinema Center strives to highlight, facilitate, and represent at industry events and film festivals around the world.

Stay tuned for more FCC film reviews and coverage of Hot Docs 2019!

Still from Born in Evin, Source: Berlinale

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