Jasmin Mozaffari’s Film Motherland Is A Portrait of Iranian Resilience

Set against the backdrop of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, Jasmin Mozaffari’s film Motherland crafts a deeply moving portrayal of the alienation often carried by a diaspora. Winner of Best Canadian Short Film at the Toronto International Film Festival, the narrative chronicles Babak (Behtash Fazlali), an Iranian university student confronting escalating prejudice as he ventures to meet the father of his American fiancé, Katie (Oriana Leman). “This is my parents’ story,’’ reveals Mozaffari, whose own father immigrated from Iran in the late ‘70s. “I want people to be able to see the Iranian diaspora in a way that’s more humanized because it hasn’t really been shown.” From
its meticulously crafted visuals to its striking sonic landscape, Motherland offers a deft portrait into the alienation, struggles, and resilience of Iranian immigrants.

Cinematographer Farhad Ghaderi worked alongside Mozaffari to craft the film’s visual language. Seeking to bridge the gap to their Iranian roots, they shared a personal connection to the film. “Collaborating with him was more than just making a movie,” says Mozaffari, “it was a personal experience for both of us.” Drawing inspiration from the gritty aesthetics of 1970s American cinema, like Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon, they shot on 16mm Kodak film. “I was very specific about the colour palette, evoking those browns and oranges of that decade that were so prevalent, but then the night scenes being extremely contrasty, cold, isolating.” The film’s visual precision not only transports the viewer but reflects the raw emotional undercurrents of its characters.

The film’s sonic landscape, underscored by the music of iconic pre- revolutionary Iranian folk-rock singer Kourosh Yaghmaei, further elevates its emotive power. Yaghmaei’s tracks, featured prominently, offer not just melodic allure but also a poignant historical commentary, especially considering how he was stifled under the Islamic Republic’s regime. His blend of American musicality with Iranian lyricism mirrors the film’s cross-cultural narrative. Most striking is the song “Pāyiz” (Autumn), which paints a melancholic canvas of fading warmth and impending darkness. For Mozaffari, “the lyrics allude to the dark period that may be ahead for Babak—the period ahead for his relationship between him and Katie—but also to the dark period that, in 1979, Iran was heading into for the next 44 years, which we’re still in.” Each song choice, layered in meaning, amplifies the film’s depth and resonance.

“There are so many Iranians living in North America, but where are the stories of the diaspora?” asks Mozaffari. “There haven’t been many. So, I think, for me, my goal now going forward is to hopefully contribute to that narrative.” A visual and sonic delight, Mozaffari has created in Motherland, a masterful portrayal of the complexities of diasporic identity.

Feature image photography by Calvin Thomas.