The third of three IDFA-debuting docs in the World Cinema Documentary Competition: From Denmark/Iran, Berit Madsen’s SEPIDEH – REACHING FOR THE STARS, about a teenage Iranian girl’s astronomy dreams.
Sundance Program Description:
In a rural village far from Tehran, the night sky glows brilliantly, unimpeded by light pollution, and a teenage girl named Sepideh dreams of becoming a renowned astronomer. Lugging a telescope as tall as herself, Sepideh spends her nights stargazing, inspired by Anousheh Ansari, the first Iranian in space. But achieving such a lofty ambition is easier said than done for an Iranian girl. Her uncle threatens something rash if Sepideh persists in her unladylike behavior, and her widowed mother warns that she cannot pay for the necessary schooling. Unphased, Sepideh composes impassioned missives to Albert Einstein and keeps her eyes on the prize. Yet when she’s passed over for a university scholarship and suitors come knocking at the door, her determination is seriously tested.
The camera is everywhere we want it to be in this magical documentary—charting the strained, yet devoted, relationship between daughter and mother and capturing unexpected moments that will change Sepideh’s life forever. Shots of breathtaking constellations are windows into Sepideh’s interior world and the vast universe that enthralls her.
Madsen received support for this, her feature directorial debut, from the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program in 2012. She has previously directed short ethnographic films about Tibetans in exile and the Nepalese caste system, in service of her PhD research in ethnography and social anthropology. Radiator Films’ Henrik Underbjerg and Stefan Frost serve as producers, whose past projects have screened internationally at festivals including Berlin, Hot Docs, Sheffield, Sydney, and Sao Paolo, among others.
Why You Should Watch:
With an immensely likeable, smart protagonist, Madsen’s film will have audiences immediately rooting for Sepideh to realize her starry-eyed dreams. Resisting the temptation to over-explain societal and cultural differences, Madsen instead lets the context reveal them, as her determined subject faces off against entrenched gender expectations that would limit her ability to pursue her passions. Interactions with her mother, mentor, uncle, and suitor are revelatory, each in their own way, about life in a patriarchal, religious society that unapologetically holds women and men to different standards, and of the potential impact progressively-minded youth like this budding astronomer might have on Iran in the future.
Check out the film’s trailer. For more information about the film, visit its Facebook page. As they become available, I’ll link to Madsen’s Meet the Artist Sundance video profile and to her Indiewire filmmaker interview. For screening dates and times at Sundance, click the link in the first paragraph.
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