Sepideh – a stunning constellation

As a character Sepideh knows what she wants. She does not care for the manacles of custom or anything that may distract her from her true love, the Night Sky. Film review.

Nadira Amrani
17 June 2014

In the sandy landscape of the Fars province in Iran, Sepideh, a young Iranian carries a large white tube telescope up the hill as her black hijab blows in the evening wind. Sepideh is a beautiful documentary feature that looks at the life of an extremely bright Iranian teenager in pursuit of her dream to be an astronaut.

The film takes an insightful look into the internal relationships between her and the people around her, while dealing with the loss of her father, family poverty and social restriction. Coping with these economic and social constraints, stargazing is not only an escape from our planet for Sepideh, but an escape from the very strong expectations of the people surrounding her.

The film features Iran's first woman in space Anousheh Ansari, a key role model for Sepideh. The film begins with Sepideh watching a documentary about Ansari’s first journey out of our atmosphere. Sepideh is an extremely thoughtful and clever individual.  While writing letters to Albert Einstein, Sepideh tells him of her hopes and dreams for the future as we follow her from the age of 16 through to the most crucial period of her life, womanhood. “Einstein with the help of you and the sky; I want to go far. To make my father proud of me.”

As a character Sepideh knows what she wants. She does not care for the manacles of custom or anything that may distract her from her true love, the Night Sky. As the film unravels her fate, many bumps in the road leave us doubtful of Sepideh’s future, though her raw determination and strength will give us hope.

The cinematography showcases the beautiful landscape of rural Iran at night, giving the documentary a real cinematic touch. With a rustic feel, the film has moments of poetic dialogue with stunning constellation visuals which take this film beyond the realm of a standard  documentary.  

The documentary feature gives a rich and intimate insight into a real mother-daughter relationship, highlighting the importance of family support in a young woman’s success. Even  when things do not go according to plan, if you want something hard enough, perhaps  you can make it happen. 

Equipped only with a basic telescope, Sepideh is forced to cadge lifts with the astronomy group out into the wilderness to escape the pressures of her everyday life and indulge in her passion for astronomy. With a lack of support from the Ministry of Education, Sepideh's astronomy teacher also struggles to build the crumbling half-constructed observatory at the edge of the village. Aiding his sick mother, Mr Kabiri is one of the few figures supporting Sepideh’s potential.  However, he too becomes sceptical when marriage proposals come for Sepideh during High School. It seems that many people within the film have strong opinions of what Sepideh ought to do with her life, but will the people who care about her most enrich her development or impede her growth?

Even with Sepideh's drive to succeed and budding potential, economic restrictions and cultural norms are in the way of her fulfilling her dream. The film showcases the centrality of a functioning paternal power within this Islamic society. After the death of Sepideh’s father, their family land was left to ruin due to her uncles’ lack of care. Without permission to rebuild the well, Sepideh's mother has been left widowed and penniless. Alone with the responsibility for her daughter's future Sepideh’s mother turns to her own brother for guidance, who is less encouraging of Sepideh’s plans. 

Due to the social connotations of a girl being outside at nighttime Sepideh’s uncle discourages Seideh for from going out with the mixed astronomy group. He says it is for her safety. Sepideh has agonising decisions to make in the balance between fulfilling her academic potential and her family responsibility. How is it that her own ideas of what to do with her life differ so fundamentally from those around her? We marvel over her animated and very determined pursuit of her own path.

Many scenes in the film showcase real human emotions, moments of disappointment and the harsh struggle for a young girl to fulfil her dreams. Nominated for a huge number of international awards, this film shows true human drive and passion to fulfil your dream no matter what the odds. Very much a feel good motion picture that leaves you with hope and inspiration.

About the Director

Sepideh was directed by Danish anthropologist and documentary film maker, Berit Madsen. Graduating from the film school Ateliers Varan in Paris and furthered her studies at the Danish School of Media and Journalism. Currently Berit is undergoing a PhD in ethnography and social anthropology from Aarhus University. Sepideh is  Berit’s first documentary feature and has won numerous International awards. 

Sepideh will have its showing at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London WC1 at 19:30 on June 21, followed by a Q&A with award-winning film director, Berit Madsen. Get tickets here. 

openDemocracy is an Open City Docs Fest media partner.

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