Ali Samadi Ahadi's The Green Wave was one of the more buzzed-about films I regretted not having seen at last year's International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, so I made sure to catch it at this year's Human Rights Watch Film Festival. Now I'm just wondering what all the fuss was about. Partially similar in style to Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir, the doc combines animation based on blog posts, video footage of street protests and rallies in Tehran, and talking-head interviews with the usual suspects (Iranian journalists, lawyers, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a former UN prosecutor, a cleric, and so on) to create a less than satisfying picture of the recent pro-democracy uprising in Iran.
The problem lies in the fact that we've seen and heard much of this before on the Internet. The doc simply aggregates unsurprising anecdotes, resulting in scarce emotional impact. Images of crowds decked out in green at a stadium rally for opposition candidate Mousavi echo the spirit that Obama embodied for many Americans. (An activist blogger proclaims in voiceover that green is a color that means “change and hope.”) The staid former prosecutor pronounces the wave of protest a “tidal wave.” A militiaman has doubts about the righteousness of his murdering protestors—and is too ashamed to pray. A journalist blogger worries about the “disappointment after all this excitement,” and that an “endless desert” lies behind destructive waves. A once-imprisoned blogger says she'll rebuild her homeland even if she has to use her body as clay to do so. After the Iranian powers-that-be shut down the Internet and place Mousavi under house arrest, many of the banners protesting the crackdown are written in English (“Where is my vote?”)—i.e. aimed at the U.S. and its western allies.
But interestingly, while it illuminates the importance of citizen journos, the film also unintentionally highlights their limits. The people broadcasting the Green Wave and its frustrating aftermath are not professional war reporters struggling to remain objective, but proudly partisan men and women. Ironically, by banning foreign press, the Iranian government only succeeded in allowing for the most disturbing pictures to be recorded by the most tenacious activists who will always find a way to get their information seen. And the doc, filled with historical context and little personalization, is a coolheaded study of these past events rather than a passionate you-are-there account, so it moves at the pace of its heavy-handed, elegiac string score.
Unlike Waltz with Bashir, which is rendered in animation because otherwise the horror might be too much to bear, The Green Wave only seems to be using the medium in an effort to make blog diaries by twentysomethings appear cinematic. And because the animation is literally illustrative, there's no crucial tension between voiceover and image. The statement “I am filled with sorrow for Iran” wedded to a sad-looking boy may speak to the activists' truth, but not to their creative new-media inventiveness.
This year's Human Rights Watch Film Festival runs from June 16 – 30. For more information, click here.