Nahid Persson (Sarvestani) (SE)

Swedish-Iranian journalist, documentary filmmaker, director, producer and author. Born in 1960 in Shiraz, Iran. Runs the production company RealReel Doc.

Nahid Persson (also known as Nahid Persson Sarvestani) was born in 1960 in Shiraz, Iran and grew up in the village of Servestan. Already as a teenager she worked as a journalist for a local newspaper and became politically involved in the uprising against the Shah. However, after the Iranian revolution in 1979, she was imprisoned by the new religious regime. After a time in Dubai, she fled to Sweden, where for more than thirty years she has been active as a documentary filmmaker with her heart and focus mainly in and on her country of birth. Her most heartfelt focus has always been women, their vulnerability, their life force and their ability to survive.

Persson graduated and worked as a microbiologist in Uppsala and also managed to manage a radio station before she discovered filmmaking. Without ever having held a camera, she was lent a super-VHS from the Studiefrämjandet adult education facilities in the early 90s. With the camera lens aimed at her children’s preschool, she put together En dag på dagis – ett minne för livet (A Day in Kindergarten – a Memory for Life), which she then sold to inclined parents. A one-year film education in Uppsala gave more flesh on the bones and soon she gained an internship at the educational department at Sweden’s national television SVT.

A constant common denominator throughout Persson’s filmic approach is the closeness to the people she portrays. In 2002, she received the Cancer Foundation’s journalist award for her film I livets slutskede (At Life’s End), about a group of people at a hospice in Uppsala and their thoughts about their remaining time in life. The jury’s motivation was: “With the help of the TV camera, Nahid Persson has portrayed feelings and thoughts in the absolute final stages of life. She is not afraid to touch on the most difficult things, the kind we in the middle of everyday life prefer to shun away from.”

The thoughts about her home country and how life took a different turn with the escape to Sweden have always occupied Persson. In Jag och min kusin (Me and My Cousin, 2000), two 20-year-old cousins, one born in Iran but raised in Sweden, the other one raised in Iran, are reflected in each other, with their similarities and differences, dictated by environment or subject to chance.

In the documentary Sjutton år av längtan (17 Years of Longing, 2002), the director describes what it was like to finally be able to return to Iran and meeting her family and the friends she was once forced to leave behind. The encounter made her realize how she wanted to use her position as a filmmaker to break taboos around drugs and prostitution and draw the attention of the outside world to the vulnerability of women in Iran. In the Emmy-nominated film Prostitution bakom slöjan (Prostitution: Behind the Veil, 2004), she follows, escorted by bodyguards, two women who live with a heroin addiction and are forced to prostitute themselves in contemporary Iran of the failed revolution, full of double standard solutions. The film was awarded the national film award Guldbagge for best documentary in 2005, won the documentary film award at the Créteil International Women’s Film Festival and received the Kristallen television award for Best Documentary Production in that same year.

“What made you a feminist?”, she is asked in an interview in the magazine ETC. Persson replies that inequality is everywhere, in Iran as well as in Sweden. “Women are interesting. And everyone just needs to be feminists. Otherwise, something is wrong with you. Those who are not feminists have just not understood.” In her next film shot in Iran, Fyra fruar och en man (Four Wives – One Man, 2007), she examines a veritable train wreck of gender inequality, male chauvinism and chivalrous masculinity, rivalry and sisterhood. Nothing is in black or white in the Mohammadi family’s strange menage à cinq. The price Persson had to pay included two months in house arrest.

“I can not go back to Iran and have been banned from making films about Iran, but no one can stop me from making films about Iranians.” Persson has defied both visible and invisible laws in her quest to portray Iran, always with a deeply personal approach. Never more clearly is this manifested than in Drottningen och jag (The Queen and I, 2008). A new chapter in Iranian history is told when the democratic activist Persson meets her former adversary, Farah Diba, wife of the overthrown deceased shah. The project turns into a polite cat-and-mouse game where two unlikely friends share a common dream of returning to their home country.

The protests of the younger generations in connection with the presidential election in Iran in 2013 made Persson see how history has repeated itself. In Min stulna revolution (My Stolen Revolution, 2013), five women are gathered together. They tell their stories of how they survived prison and torture with often deadpan, laconic humour. The film is dedicated to the political prisoners who sacrificed, and still sacrifice their lives for freedom and democracy – not least Persson’s own brother, whose death has marked her for life. She describes her feelings of guilt over this tragedy and many more aspects of her dramatic life in the autobiography Alltid i mitt hjärta (Always in my heart, 2011).

With her documentary Anders, jag och hans 23 andra kvinnor (Anders, me and his 23 other women, 2018), Persson throws himself into the dating game. With herself as a pawn, she describes how she thinks she has found the man of her dreams in the professional tennis player Anders. However, he turned out to toss around with over twenty other women online at the same time. On the other hand, he had no idea that he was dealing with a documentary filmmaker. “The camera is my weapon”, states Persson who has created a film about a treacherous Don Juan in the new world of Tinder.

Louise Lagerström (2018)
(translated by Jan Lumholdt)

Basic info

Main profession: Director
Born: 1960
Active: 2000-

Filmography

Regi:
Anders, jag och hans 23 andra kvinnor (2018)
Min stulna revolution (2013)
Drottningen och jag (2009)
Det blå hjärtat (2008)
Fågelburen (2008)
Fyra fruar och en man (2007)
Åt helvete med det gamla (2005)
Prostitution bakom slöjan (2004)
I livets slutskede (2002)
Sjutton år av längtan (2000)

Manus:
Anders, jag och hans 23 andra kvinnor (2018)
Min stulna revolution (2013)
Drottningen och jag (2009)
Fågelburen (2008)
Fyra fruar och en man (2007)
Prostitution bakom slöjan (2004)

Producent:
Anders, jag och hans 23 andra kvinnor (2018)
Min stulna revolution (2013)
Drottningen och jag (2009)
Det blå hjärtat (2008)
Emma (2008)
Fågelburen (2008)
Motormannen (2008)
Fyra fruar och en man (2007)
Damtoaletten (2006)
Åt helvete med det gamla (2005)
Jag och min kusin (2003)
Sjutton år av längtan (2000)

Foto:
Anders, jag och hans 23 andra kvinnor (2018)
Det blå hjärtat (2008)
Fågelburen (2008)
Motormannen (2008)
Fyra fruar och en man (2007)
Prostitution bakom slöjan (2004)
Jag och min kusin (2003)
i livets slutskede (2002)

Klippning:
Anders, jag och hans 23 andra kvinnor (2018)
Min stulna revolution (2013)
Det blå hjärtat (2008)
Fågelburen (2008)
Fyra fruar och en man (2007)
Prostitution bakom slöjan (2004)
i livets slutskede (2002)

Roll:
Drottningen och jag (2009)
Jag och min kusin (2003)

Redigering:
Jag och min kusin (2003)

Översättare:
Drottningen och jag (2009)
Fyra fruar och en man (2007)
Prostitution bakom slöjan (2004)

Read more about the films at Svensk Filmdatabas (SE)

Published works

Utkom med självbiografin “Alltid i mitt hjärta” 2011.

Awards

Kristallen, Bästa dokumentärproduktion 2010 för Drottningen och jag (2009)

Prostitution bakom slöjan (2004) blev nominerad till en internationell Emmy, vann Guldbaggen för Bästa dokumentärfilm 2005 och Kristallen för Bästa dokumentärproduktion 2005

Cancerfondens Journalistpris 2002, I livets slutskede (2002)

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