An inside look into Tehran's underground music scene, Sounds of Silence offers a street-level view of Iranian musicians struggling for self-expression in the face of strict oversight and censorship from Ershad, the government's Ministry of Islamic Guidance. In a country in which half the population is under 30, it is hardly surprising to find a great demand for music, especially pop music. But since the Revolution, the state has sought to curb the influence of the West in Iranian culture, taking control over everything from lyrics to musical style to the onstage movements of performers, and the solo female singing voice is strictly prohibited in public. Featuring interviews with a host of musicians working in various genres, this documentary shows the incredible frustrations and obstacles that Iranian musicians must contend with, as well as the different ways in which they strive to get their music heard. Seeking to create a unique and distinctive sound, many musicians either combine elements of traditional Iranian music with more Western forms or draw lyrical inspiration from the Iranian literary tradition. But this does not guarantee Ershad approval, and these artists are increasingly turning to the Internet-often without government permission-in order to disseminate their work and engage their audiences. From the alternative-rock band O-Hum to rapper Soroush to trance group Atma, musicians are finding that websites with downloadable songs and videos afford them the exposure that censorship denies them. A compelling look into the relatively obscure world of Iran's fragile pop culture, Sounds of Silence reveals the precarious existence of the artist in a state bent on creating a conservative, traditionalist society.
Director's Statement Collapse
I read daily accounts of "thousands on Tehran's streets protesting against the West," anti-Israeli hatred campaigns, "rebellious" young drug-addicted people, and imprisoned subservient women. And yet these stories remain to me abstract and superficial. Having grown up in Germany with both the Iranian and German culture in my blood, I always wanted to look "behind the scenes." What is actually going on within Iranian society and its youth? I don't know. How should I know? My experience so far had been the media coverage and a few summer holidays with my cousins and other relatives. Even though this film only portrays a small part of Iran's youth, it shows to me the power and strength of the people, within their own four walls. I was particularly impressed by their sharp yet rhetorically apprehensive and careful statements towards our camera. These young musicians make their way in life without ever pitying themselves or vying for any kind of compassion. They move forward despite all obstacles. They move forward, whatever happens. - Amir Hamz Underground music was an initiation rite: a passage from a fascination with a music that was much cooler than everything else to becoming part of it. Or so I thought. Music meant giving a home to the teenage delinquent, away from his or her real home, because home is somehow where you don't have to explain yourself. It's where difference does not have to be justified, but just is. I wonder sometimes if this is not some romantic projection of mine; some desperate attempt to keep the term "underground" from disintegrating entirely in this day and age. But then I find myself again in some tiny record shop digging for that most obscure of treasures, and my doubts are gone...for the moment. This time the record store is in Tehran. Here underground means zirzamini, basement, because that's where you have to make music. But, as so often happens with music, the term just isn't cool anymore. However, it takes on another meaning as well. Music is underground here because it can't be anything else. It's not out in the open, it gets passed around by word of mouth, and it constantly has to justify itself. My romantic ideal is being challenged,and its parameters are being reset. What to do? Lament the absence of a First Amendment and more? But the music is there, and the band plays on with admirable energy in the face of the utmost adversity. The urgency of necessity is nothing short of fascinating. To call that merely romantic, it seems to me, would be an insult. -Mark Lazarz
About the Director(s)Collapse
Born in Germany in 1979, director Amir Hamz received his B.A. from Hamburg in French Literature, North American Studies, and Film Studies. He then moved to London, where he received an M.A. in Mass Communications and Politics. He has worked in film and television since 1999 and has directed various short films. Sounds of Silence is his debut feature documentary. Director Mark Lazarz was born in 1972 in Germany. He moved to London, where he studied Film. He has been working in television, theater, and film since 1992. Like Hamz, his codirector, Lazarz has directed a handful of short films. Sounds of Silence is his debut feature documentary.