Iranian Filmmaker Fulfills his Purpose Through Academia
Hamidreza Nassiri, an independent filmmaker, would describe himself as a public humanities person. He is also both a Ph.D. film candidate and teaching assistant at the University of Wisconsin- Madison.
“From my adviser’s point of view, I’m first and foremost a dissertator,” he said.
Nassiri’s academic studies began in Iran where he completed all of his grade school education and Bachelor’s of Science in Electrical Engineering at the University of Tehran. He excelled in his academic program, receiving a 4.0 GPA and reserving time for student council but Nassiri also had an interest in the arts.
“I am way more interested in filmmaking than electrical engineering. I was a pretty good student,” he said.
Nassiri said theatre was a big part of his life growing up and he would often recruit his friends to work with him on small productions. He also loved politics and music. Filmmaking gave him an opportunity to combine all of those things so, in college, he decided to give filmmaking a chance; he’d never failed before and thought “why not?”
When it comes to doing stuff, I am little self-confident. I just start doing things,” Nassiri said.
He founded the Performing Arts Club at the University of Tehran and also made his first film. While people around Nassiri held some reservations about him exploring filmmaking, especially as an electrical engineering student but Nassiri had always been told he could do anything he set his mind to so he did not think filmmaking would be any different.
“I was always a very good student, on top of my classes and grades and professional things,” he said.
Nassiri believed in himself and fought for something he loved. While pursuing a career in filmmaking isn’t easy, he kept going, making a second film.
“When I was working on my second film, I was shooting for seven days in a row and there were days where I wasn’t sleeping at all,” Nassiri said.
After completing his undergraduate degree, he would go on to pursue a Masters of Arts in Cinema at the same university, however, Nassiri wanted more out of his film career. He wanted to study in the United States.
“When I was applying for American universities, everyone was like you can’t do it,” he said.
Nassiri said few Iranians have been able to make it to top film institutions and that those around him told him it would be a waste of time and money but that did not stop him. He finished a Master’s Degree in Film Studies with a 3.92 GPA and is now pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy and Film Studies.
“I have to do more stuff. I have to pursue that path to be one of those filmmakers,” Nassiri said.
He wants to be an active member of his community, making contributions through his work as a filmmaker which is how Wisconsin’s Inaugural Iranian Film Festival came into existence. Nassiri said he was talking with a friend, Google Software Engineer Ashkan Forouhi who was a Master’s Candidate in the Computer Sciences Department at the time.
“It would be a good idea to have some type of festival. We thought that there’s a good chance it would be a well-attended festival,” Nassiri said.
In 2015, many people thought a film festival would be too huge of a feat for them to organize, however, this would never discourage someone like Nassiri. He had a vision and did what he had to do; applying for grants, fundraising, recruiting other volunteers and whatever else to make the festival a success. Through the film festival, Nassiri wanted to show more positive images and everyday visuals of Iranian life in an increasingly politically hostile environment.
“Iran is very similar to you. We would stay with good films that show the reality of everyday life in Iran,” he said.
Nassiri said the planning committee also chose films that showed the economic pressures of Iran, however, the festival’s mission was to display an alternative image of Iran. He wanted to help educate misinformed people in both a cultural and peaceful manner.
“Well, in the states it has become more hostile. Both governments are each other’s throats,” Nassiri said.
He also said traditional American news outlets do not help either. When it comes to being informed about the United States relationship with Iran, Nassiri said there are two types of people; a) they don’t care at all or b) people who [based their knowledge solely on the last two administrations].
“The other camp that sees the continuity. Those people who see those continuities are more open to change their perceptions of things,” Nassiri said.
He said this group is more willing to attend events to learn about the issues persisting for the last few decades so at the last film festival they hosted a Q&A. Attendees were allowed to ask any question even if they perceived it to be offensive.
“The people who come to those screenings are coming there voluntarily and actively. It’s a great view to change their views and thoughts of Iran. Hopefully, there’s a domino effect,” Nassiri said.
He is hoping people continue to do this work but Nassiri also plans to focus on new endeavors. Last year, he submitted a proposal for a project to train marginalized groups in visual storytelling using cell phones.
“I really want to say to graduate students out there and faculty, please don’t make a separation within academia and public work. Please don’t look at it as a distraction. Please take your pressures off your students to just do academic work,” Nassiri said.