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Iranium — the movie Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn’t want you to see

February 2, 2011

The Vancouver Sun, 1 Feb 2011: Iranium is the movie the Iran government doesn’t want you to watch, and it’s easy to see why. The documentary — whose first showing at Library and Archives Canada was cancelled after Iranian embassy objections, threatening phone calls and suspicious letters — is essentially an hour of people talking about the years of terror, violence, and nuclear threat emanating from Tehran. It’s illustrated with news footage of bombings and kidnappings, a scene of a protester who was shot dead at an Iranian street march, and grainy scenes of a woman being stoned and others being hanged.

The cumulative effect is more didactic than cinematic: Iranium is a talking-heads film, an argument for harsh sanctions or perhaps military intervention as Iran works toward building a nuclear weapon. The consequences are depicted in speculations about innocent-looking ships sailing into New York City harbour with missiles aboard, or small nuclear weapons being smuggled across the border from Mexico with the help of drug cartels.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr., head of a conservative think tank called the Center for Security Policy and one of the dozens of experts interviewed, says Iran could launch a “strategic, electromagnetic pulse attack,” exploding a bomb above the U.S. that would destroy the power grid, melting lines and everything at the end of them. It is worth nothing that Gaffney’s position on Islamic threat is extreme: he once wrote an article for the Washington Times calling Barack Obama “America’s first Muslim president.”

There is no evidence that Iran is going to explode such a bomb, except in the way that Iranium shows Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad leading chants of “Death To America,” adds scenes of nuclear research — and does Iran, which sits on oceans of oil and natural gas, really need nuclear power? —then puts two and two together. The country’s history, beginning with the 1979 revolution that toppled the Shah and installed a fundamentalist Islamic government, provides little assurance that cooler heads will prevail.

Iran’s protest over Iranium — shown in Ottawa under the auspices of the Free Thinking Film Society, which espouses “limited, democratic government” — is part of a larger battle between Iran and the movie industry. Two of the country’s own filmmakers, Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, have been sentenced to six years in prison on charges of propaganda against the system, igniting protests in Hollywood and elsewhere. At this year’s Sundance festival, Iranian filmmaker Ali Samadi Ahadi, who now lives in Germany, showed another new movie, The Green Wave, that outlines government repression and talks about a new mood of protest in Iran, similar to that which toppled the Shah.

Several of the Iranium experts call on Western governments to support those protests: James Woolsey, who was head of the CIA under Bill Clinton, says the U.S. must do everything it can to see the regime collapse before it goes nuclear.

The chorus of warnings from Woolsey and others give Iranium a relentlessly alarmist feeling, although the cumulative evidence — of Iran funding Hezbollah terrorism, of columns of revolutionary guards marching with angry precision, of Ahmadinejad forming alliances around the world — is impressively grim. It’s an unapologetically one-sided documentary, produced by the Clarion Fund, a group that has made two previous movies about the threat of radical Islam, and narrated by Shohreh Aghdashloo, the Oscar-nominated actress (House of Sand and Fog) who fled the country in 1978.

After the Ottawa screening was cancelled, Heritage Minister James Moore ordered that it be shown, assuring much publicity it wouldn’t have otherwise received. Those who attend will find a 60-minute lecture designed to anger us, frighten us and call us to action. It would be tempting to dismiss as a right-wing fantasy if only someone hadn’t gone to such steps to keep it from being shown.



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