The Color of Love: Director’s Statement
The Ashura festival in Iran, which mourns the death of the 7 th century saint Imam Hossein, has
always captured my imagination. I chose to shoot during the Ashura festival because I believe the
different layers of the festival are indicative of the underlying layers of modern Iranian society. For
many Iranians, the festival is the ultimate symbol of love. Men beat themselves and bawl in public
while women do the same in mosques and at home. The ritual blends a cathartic outlet of life’s
anxieties and religious sentiment. It is also a sensual experience: people eat special foods, sip
sodas, and gaze at the spectacle. For young people, the ability to freely congregate in a public
space offers an opportunity to meet new people. If they can avoid the grasp of the cultural police, it
offers a the chance to find love.
When I tell Westerners I’ve lived in Iran they most commonly ask me about politics. What are
Iranian political freedoms? In 1979, the Iranian monarch was overthrown and an Islamic theocracy
was established. Westerners ask: will there be another revolution? But in Iran, when I asked about
a possible revolution, people rarely spoke of politics. In particular, young people, who make up
72% of Iran’s population, said they were sick of politics. For them, revolution was not an abstract
romantic idea; their lives sprung from a conflict they were not alive to experience. At the top level,
Iran is a very conservative society. It’s a theocracy in which the government employs moral police
to maintain its legitimacy. And yet the number of educated people is exponentially higher than 25
years ago, and Iranian youth are more connected to global influences through Western media via
illegal satellite TV and internet. The ensuing conflict is erupting into a true cultural revolution. Is it
the West that is irrevocably changing the very fiber of Iranian society? Or is it a more complex
matter stemming from the interaction of increased education, later marriage, and reaction against
political conservatism? As the film project evolved, I realized what had changed through the
generations was not merely political, but rather something more fundamental and deeply personal.
The idea of love had changed. The way Iranians were courting, marrying, divorcing, and raising
families was changing. Was a change in the perception of love inherently political because it
affected individuals and their view of the world? I believed so; therefore, I focused my efforts in
exploring the issue of love in Iran.
Since I had always experienced Iran through my family, I cast my own family members as the
primary subjects of the film. As a means of creating context for my family’s stories, I interviewed
people on the streets, in the mosques, the bazaar, the universities, and on hiking paths. I asked
them “What does love mean?” The responses were varied but I was struck by the poetry and
eloquence people used when speaking about love. I used their stories to structure my film around
the notion that love has phases of evolvement. The different phases, and the colors that represent
them, are a way to understand the different generations. Each color carries a separate emotional
Red: The new generation. Ahmad and Azadeh’s passion and zest to find love even if it means
navigating tight legal-social-political restrictions. Blue: The in-between generation. Ehson and
Sara’s stability and patience in creating a modern family. The 30-something couple has suffered
immensely to marry for love, in a time when “marrying for love” in traditional families brought up
controversy and resistance. They accept that love isn’t always about being happy and realize that
adversity can make a relationship grow. Black: The lost generation. Zari’s interviews show the
perspective of the segment of population that feels trapped by the cultural mores of love in Iran.
White: The old generation. An elderly couple’s arranged marriage that has grown to a love of
spiritual dimensions. Having married at age 12, all reason suggests that Sharbanoo's life should be
miserable. She lacked choice in marriage, yet she has acquired the depth of intimacy from a
relationship that has survived half a century.
The documentary strives to show a truth, a reality of specific people’s lives at a certain moment in
history. The section on young people “cruising at religious ceremonies” was extensively
researched; I personally witnessed and even participated in this “cruising”. However, it was
impossible to film specific youth’s interaction at public religious ceremonies due to the illicit nature
of the interaction. I employed fictional techniques to create a more comprehensive truth about how
young people meet at these events.
This project began as a short film to fulfill the first year documentary requirement at NYU Grad Film
School. While filming in Iran, the US invaded Iraq and I decided to extend my trip. The story
blossomed and grew thanks to the sincerity of my subjects, my Iran crew that secured permits and
bailed me out when my permits were revoked, and my US crew that helped shape the story in
post-production. I want to thank everyone that helped make this film a reality.
--Maryam Keshavarz August 2004
The Color of Love: Synopsis
Rangeh Eshgh (The Color of Love)
Iran/ USA Co-Production
One week each year Iranians stay out all night. Women abandon legal curfews. Men weep.
Communities gather to mourn their saint's death, ask that wishes be granted, give thanks for
prayers answered. While this week showcases Iran's most restrictive religious elements, it offers
openings for this culture's most intimate connections. Is a change in the perception of love
inherently political because it affects individuals and their view of the world? As we follow three
couples negotiating love, we learn freedom is not what we assume it is and love is more than we
imagine it to be.
The Color of Love: Filmmaker’s Bios
MARYAM KESHAVARZ- Director, Co-editor, Producer.
Iranian-American Maryam Keshavarz grew up in New York and spent intermittent summers in the
Middle East. Her interest in narrative is driven by her constant negotiation between a conservative
religious tradition and liberal lifestyle. After graduating Northwestern University with honors,
Maryam spent a year studying Persian language and literature at Shiraz University in Iran, where
her idea for a feature documentary first took root. While competing nationally on the Shirazi
women’s basketball team, she met women who navigated the country’s restrictions seemingly
without fear. Their stories served as inspiration for her first extended photo essay: Portraits of
Modern Iranian Women. In 2003, Maryam returned to Shiraz to continue her exploration on modern
Iranian society, this time inspired to use the medium of film. Maryam’s feature documentary debut,
“The Color of Love,” explores the influence of religion, restriction, and external western media on
concepts of love. The film poses the question: In a nation undergoing a cultural revolution, is a
change in the perception of love inherently political because it affects individuals and their view of
Maryam completed her BA at Northwestern University in Comparative Literature and Women’s
Studies and her MA in Near Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan, where she received a
FLAS Fellowship. Maryam is currently earning her MFA degree in film directing from NYU Film
School where she is a Steve Tisch Fellowship recipient. The Color of Love is Maryam's first
feature documentary." Maryam has written and directed several short films that have shown at
international film festivals. She also in development on several feature film projects.
ANDREA CHIGNOLI- Editor
Andrea Chignoli, Fulbright Scholar 2002-2004 and MFA Film at Columbia University, had edited
several theatrically released feature-length films in her home country –Chile- and Europe, including
“The Loco Fever,” fiction film co-produced by Pedro Almodovar and shown at Venice Film Festival
2002. Her recent editing credits include the documentaries “Vern” (USA), acquired by MOMA in
2004 and “The Color of Love” (USA/Iran), official selection Montréal Film Festival 2004.
BENT-JORGEN PERLMUTT- Associate Producer
B.J. Perlmutt’s interest in film began during his undergraduate years at Brown University where he
wrote two feature-length scripts and received honors in screenwriting. In 2002, he spent several
months in the Democratic Republic of Congo shooting medical training videos and directing his first
short film, “Value Added”. B.J. has also worked as a boom operator for an independent feature-
length film entitled ”Teddy” and as a production assistant for various films, television programs and
commercials including ”Raising Helen” (Disney), ”They Made America”(WGBH), and Mitsubishi.
B.J. currently serves as the co-producer and additional editor of “Control Room”, a documentary
about the media coverage in Iraq with a focus on Al-Jazeera. “Control Room” had its debut at
Sundance last January and was distributed theatrically by Magnolia Pictures in May. As a graduate
student pursuing his Masters of Fine Arts in Film at Columbia University, B.J. has written, directed,
produced, and edited numerous short films.
SEAN SHODAHL- Associate Producer
Sean Shodahl has been working in the film industry since the late nineties. Starting off in
operations with film festivals in Hawaii and San Francisco, he programmed and managed with a
core team the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival for three years. He has
directed and produced trailers for the festival and has served as a script developer for independent
feature length projects. Currently, he works with the Tribeca Film Institute for a new development
initiative program called Tribeca All Access that assists the development of feature length
narratives and documentaries directed by filmmakers of color.
HOSSEIN KESHAVARZ- Associate Producer- USA
Hossein Keshavarz’s interest in story telling began, when as a history major at Northwestern
University, he wrote a novella entitled, "Time of the Falling Sky". Both before and after college he
lived abroad in various countries including Iran, New Zealand, Spain and Peru. While working in
business for several years, Hossein frequently hid in the bathroom to write screenplays, leading
him to decide to pursue a career in film. Collaborating with his sister, Maryam, on several shorts,
“The Color of Love” is the duo’s first feature documentary. Currently, he is finishing a MFA at
Columbia University and is slated to direct his first feature, “At the Beginning of the Cold Season,”
in Iran in 2005.
CARLA ROLEY- Associate Producer- USA
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Carla went on to study Photography and Film
at Art Center College of Design in her native California. Carla’s photographic work began with
documentary and editorial portraiture, influenced by extensive travel throughout seven continents.
Enraptured by the stories of those she encountered, Carla’s work naturally evolved to documentary
and narrative cinematography.
Unable to attain a visa to Iran to shoot “The Color of Love,” Carla served as US-based producer for
the documentary. Films Carla has shot numerous short films includeing “Sanctuary,” “Procession,”
“Heaven,” and “Love in Three Minutes”. She is presently in pre-production to serve as Director of
Photography on her first feature narrative film. After several years in San Francisco, where she
taught at the Acadamy of Art Collage, Carla is now based out of New York City.
AZAR KESHAVARZ- Associate Producer- Iran
After a successful career in real estate, Azar turned her negotiating skills to the film world. Azar
has produced several short films that have shown at international festivals. Azar returned to Shiraz,
Iran, the city of her childhood, to produce her first feature film, The Color of Love. Azar was pivotal
in gaining permission to film on city streets as well as securing a special access permit to film in
Shiraz’s holy shrines during the Ashura rituals
TEXT ONLY: PRESS CLIPPINGS
Front page: Pop Culture
Title: “Cruising in Shiraz”
Author: Maurie Alioff/ email@example.com
Maryam Keshavrz’s documentary, The Color of Love, implies that Iran’s huge population of young
people is chipping away steadily at the authoritarian rules restricting their lives. But if the kids are
on the verge of toppling the House of the Ayatollahs, it won’t be because their meeting in dank
basements to plot a regime change. Change will come because they are wearing lipstick and
playing seduction games.
“I had come up with the idea of asking how Iran has changed,” Keshavarz, a New York
City- raised Iranian-American, explains during a recent interview. “What are politics? Is there going
to be a revolution? But then I started to realize I was asking the wrong questions. Everyone kept
talking about culture: “The way dress has changes, the way marriage and divorce has changed.”
In its exploration of a slowly emerging brave new world, The Color of Love challenges
television images of veiled Muslim woman looking spectral, devoid of personality and spirit. The
film takes viewers behind the veil into the private realms where people say and do whatever they
like. Dressed in a T-short and jeans, Keshavarz’s younger cousin Azadeh stretches out, sucking a
lollipop, teasingly imploring the filmmaker not to make her look like as if she’s sucking something
else. Later on in the doc, Keshavarz’s grandmother is being filmed from behind, and the elderly
lady demands to knoe what is so fascinating about her ass. The women in this movie come
through as suprisingly irreverent, ironic, and articulate.
Keshavarz’s film was shour in the ancient city of Shiraz during the festival of Ashura. We
see crowds of men flagellating themselves in a tightly choreographed ritual mourning the loss of
the seventh century saint, Imam Hussein. This and other details in the movie suggest that an old
culture of death and mourning is being challenged by nothing more complicated than a yearning for
basic human experiences like falling in love. In one scene, a young man waits for his beloved in a
cemetery. There’s a bowl of fresh oranges in the grave beside him.
Ashura’s religious rites bring young people into candlelit streets where they engage in the
teenage ritual of cruising. They do it cautiously because the Morality Police can arrest them for
attracting a boy’s eye, or for inviting a girl into a car. How seriously should one take cops who run
around preventing eye contact? “You don’t want to get caught,” says Keshavarz. And what’s the
likelihood of being harassed or arrested? “It’s in waves, that’s the crazy thing. You can have
complete freedom for a year, and all of a sudden, there are crackdowns.”
During the production for the film, Keshavarz sometimes got harassed, and one day she
was arrested on trumped up charges. She fully understands why young Iranians are “pushing
boundaries and negotiating around restrictions in different ways, just grabbing life by the horns and
going and changing things.” Keshavarz knows that Iranian society would become atrophied without
“that vitality of this new youth, of this sensuality.”
At the same time, she continues, “A part of me feels a little bit sad.” Who wants Britney
Spears to replace a culture that in a city like Shiraz is Thousands of years old? Nobody wants the
Morality Police, but what about the poetry?
One of the film’s ironies us that while Keshavarz admires the gutsiness if Iranian young
people and understands their yearning for the kind of life she has, a part of her is attracted to the
traditional culture they want to shed. Keshavarz remembers her uncle telling her that “the color of
love is fading. People ince saw love as happiness and mourning, happiness and difficulties. And
difficulties were beautiful. They were a part of our lives.”
Keshavarz’s uncle laments a love without “sorrow, tears, and a willingness to drown in the
TEXT ONLY: PRESS CLIPPINGS
Front page: Pop Culture
Title: “An Iran Many Don’t Know: Film looks at nature of love & gender relations”
Author: Brendan Kelly, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rangeh Eshgh (The Color of Love) was originally meant to be an eight minute short, nothing more
than a university film project. But after the U.S. invaded Iraq last year, 29 year old director Maryam
Keshavarz decided it should be a mych bigger, more ambitious project.
“It seems very pertinent right now with everything going on in the Middles East,” said
Keshavarz, a high energy, ultra-articulate New Yorker of Iranian background.
The Color of Love, a 68-minute documentary that has its first public screening at the World
Film Festival today, is not about Iraq. It is a look at the politics of the personal in today’s Iran.
More specifically, Keshavarz talks to several Iranians, including many members of her
extended family, about the nature of love and how the relations between the sexes are changing in
a country not exactly known for allowing men and women to meet, flirt and romance freely.
This is not a film about Iran’s political system. Rather it is a lyrical, off the cuff snapshot of
the real lives of real people in Iran.
CONTINUED: Additional headline: “Color/ Iraq war makes film very timely”
The reason Keshavarz thinks it’s so timely is that since the war in Iraq started, Americans-and
others in the West- have been presented with a monolithic picture of the Middle East and its
people. One of the points of her film is that we have to go beyond the footage of anti-American
demonstrations in the region and try to understand the people behind the sensational headlines.
“It would complicate our foreign policy if we saw the real faces of these people,” Keshavarz
said. “It’s easier if we don’t see the human faces.”
Keshavarz was filming in Iran when the bombs started dropping on Iraq last year, and drily
noted that she has now been in Iran during three Iraq wars (including the Iran-Iraq war and the first
“It made me think about politics,” said Keshavarz, who has visited Iran regularily since her
childhood. “It pushed me to rethink things.”
The Color of Love shoes an Iran likely unfamiliar to most of us. It begins with the Ashura
festival, where men beat themselves in public, reinforcing our stereotypical ideas of Iranian culture.
But we also see younger Iranians surfing the Web on their home computers, checking out Ricky
Martin videos and talking about what they watch on satellite TV.
There is talk of arranged marriages, but the film also shows young Iranians fighting to be
able to break the rules and actually marry for love. Keshavarz notes that more than 70 per cent of
the Iranian population is under 30 and says this younger generation is slowly but determinedly
shifting the mores of the country.
“They’re revolting in different ways,” said Keshavarz. “They’re not passive. I saw people
arguing with the police, There’s this energy there that’s so exciting.
“Five years ago, when I went to university in Iran, it was hard to get Internet access. Now
there are Internet cafes and they’re watching Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 (on the Web). Even
though satellite television is illegal, the government looks the other way. Even the most religious
guys have satellite TV.
“There are all these young people pushing the boundaries, but we don’t see that in the
western media. It’s not a revolution that’s going to happen. It is happening.”
Keshavarz’s parents came to the U.S. from Iran in the 1960s, but Keshavarz would spend
every summer in the old country and went back to study at the University of Shiraz four years ago.
She began The Color of Love as a project for her master’s degree in the film program at New York
University, and her school helped her by providing equipment and technical support.
When asked how a twentysomething student could finance such a project, Keshavarz
stresses that this is one very low budget flick.
“You find a way. I was driven to so this film and I used every connection and every
discount I could find. It was just getting people to believe in the project.”
TEXT ONLY: PRESS CLIPPINGS
The Globe and Mail
Title: “World Film Festival Diary”
Author: Matthew Hays
Iranian-American filmmaker Maryam Keshavarz has premiered her first documentary here, Rangeh
Eshgh (The Color of Love). The 29 year-old New York based filmmaker says she was inspired to
make the film about everyday life in Iran after the bombs started dropping in Iraq. The film is a
poetic and charming glimpse into the lives of a number of Iranians, as the filmmaker interrogates
them about their opinion on love and romance. The film clearly illustrates the tension between
younger Iranians, who yearn for modernity, and the fundamentalist elders who run the state. The
flirtations of two Iranian adolescents are captured with great skill; as well, there is a particularly
appealing grandmother with a penchant for blunt one-liners. At one point, she turns to the camera
that is following her and inquires: “Why do you want to photograph my ass?”
TEXT ONLY: PRESS CLIPPINGS
Title: “Best Bet for Today and Tomorrow”
Author: Brendan Kelly
Maryam Keshavarz’s feature documentary is a fascinating snapshot of life in Iran. The New Yorker
of Iranian descent went to Iran to talk to ordinary people, including many members of her extended
family, about the meaning of love, and the result is an unusual exploration of the politics of the
personal in this repressive society. The film includes footage of men beating themselves during the
Ashura festival, but the more intriguing material includes younger Iranians ralking about how their
generation has a radically different view of love, sex and marriage. In Farsi with English subtitles.