“Bam 6.6, The Movie,” an interview by Brian H. Appleton

The following is an abridged interview of independent filmmaker Jahangir Golestan-Parast, born in Esfahan, Iran, and now living with his family in California. His film Bam 6.6 reveals the compassion of the Iranian people in a time of crisis—the 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran, which killed over 30,000 people. The movie follows the story of two newly-engaged Americans, Tobb Dell’Oro and Adele Freedman, who were victims of the earthquake, the Ira- nian tour guide who helped rescue them from the rubble, and the surgeon who saved Adele’s life.

Q: Tell me about your family and your early childhood in Esfahan.

A: I was raised in a very loving environment in Esfahan. My father had two wives and two families, one in Tehran and one in Esfahan. We became very close after my father died, when my stepsiblings moved to Esfahan. We now consider ourselves one family. My father was well known in Esfahan and Iran because of his café, a very traditional teahouse he owned for 30 years. Often when we would see a beggar in the street my father would encourage me to take his hand and invite him to our café, where he would give him a free meal and some money. A friend recently asked me now that I am 55 and have traveled the world, if I had to do it again, where would I like to be born and with which citizenship? Without any doubt or hesitation I said Esfahan. I still feel like it’s the most fascinating city in the world. It’s so beautiful.

Q: What are some of your other memories from childhood?

A: We went to movies all the time—outdoor movie theatres. My father also owned an inn. My brother and I would jump from its roof onto the roof of the theatre, where we could watch for free. Sometimes we brought our friends, too. When we were too young to read, we would sit next to an older person, who would read the Persian subtitles of the foreign films out loud.

Q: When did you decide you wanted to be a filmmaker?

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Brian H. Appleton

A: I wanted to be a moviemaker from the time I was fifteen. Richard Brooks’s adaptation of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood made a big impression on me. At that time, I went to live in London with my brother Mohammad. I needed top grades to get into film school there, but I wasn’t able to get them, and so I never ended up studying film. Eventually, I went to the United States, where I took several courses on filmmaking at UCLA and made my first film, which was a travelogue about Esfahan.

Q: Tell me about the evolution of Bam 6.6 and why you chose to make it.

A: Although the devastating tragedy of the earthquake seemed like a grim subject for a film, it really served as a door opening for the American public to see Persian culture. It seems that every filmmaker up until this film has focused on one particular aspect of Iranian culture without looking at the big picture. I was determined to portray the best of Persian culture comprehensively—the essence of its generosity, hospitality, caring, and passion for their fellow human beings. There were many Americans who also believed in my goal, such as Bill Woolery, who edited this film and made a trailer pro bono. The Dell’Oro family, whose son Tobb died from his injuries, greatly supported this film, as did his fiancée’s family, the Freedmans.

Q: I know that you wanted to tell the story of Tobb and Adele so Americans would see the compassion and care they received in Iran. How did you connect with them?

A: A Persian student brought me an article about Tobb and Adele. I contacted Tobb’s sister who was very receptive and thought both families would want to participate. Both the Dell’Oros and the Freedmans were interested in getting the word out to the American public and the Western world about what kind people Iranians really are and the warm welcome and assistance they received in the hospital in Tehran. When Adele went for a follow-up visit with her doctors in New York, they commented that they could not have done a better job than the Iranian doctors had. When the Iranian surgeon took a look at Adele’s crushed foot he had to decide between amputation or reconstructive surgery, which was the difference between a half hour versus five hours of surgery. Despite the thousands of other people in need of medical attention, he elected to undertake the sur- gery because foreign travelers are guests and guests come first in Iran.

I cannot begin to express how much love I feel for Tobb Dell’Oro, Adele Freedman, and their families. I know it must have been painful for them to revisit the experience, but they agreed to share their story because they shared my mission of peace. Just as a child is born from its mother’s pain, so was something born from all the misery and devastation. That something was the opportunity to show the very best qualities that humanity has to offer.

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Love and Pomegranates

A: Adele agreed to the interview in May 2004. I didn’t want to overwhelm her, so I filmed the interview myself without a cameraman. I cried throughout the entire session because it was such a moving story. Three years later, I realized I needed more footage, but I was wor- ried that Adele would not agree to further interview. The political climate had changed between our countries and I wondered how they felt about Iran. Also, I didn’t know if Adele and the Freedmans wanted to be subjected to more publicity. However, my fears were unfounded. When I finished the film, I went back to New York to show it to her, but she didn’t want to see it. Adele’s parents watched the finished film with me first. We were all crying. When it ended, Adele’s mother said she had learned much about Iranian people and understood now why Tobb had wanted to go to Iran. She thoroughly approved of the film and urged Adele to see it.

During the last three years while making this film, I underwent a transformation. It reconfirmed that the epicenter of my life’s motivation is humanity, humanity, humanity. I think many Iranians and other Middle Easterners Anglicize their names and hide their ethnicity for a variety of reasons, including avoidance of persecution and shame of the perceived “backwardness” of their culture. After making this film, I felt even prouder of being Iranian. I want every Iranian, especially expatriates, to feel proud of the good things in Iranian culture.

Q: What’s next?

A: I am planning to make a film about my own experience coming to America and the experience of other expat Iranians in the United States. It is my profoundest wish that Iranians find unity amongst themselves and that all the wounds between different fac- tions and political and ethnic groups heal, and that we work to preserve our heritage and our culture.