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Film Student Collaborates with Persecuted Iranian Christian to Document Her Quest for Freedom

Film student uses expertise to help a woman fleeing religious persecution tell her own story.

Mary Mohammadi being filmed in New York City

Siamak Dehghanpour, a seasoned international reporter for Voice of America and Film and Media Arts MFA candidate in the School of Communication at American University (AU SOC), is currently developing a documentary film project with and about an Iranian woman named Mary Mohammadi who fled persecution for the hope of a new life.

Dehghanpour, who is also Iranian, was drawn to Mohammadi’s story of being harassed and imprisoned in her home country after speaking out on behalf of her own and others’ human rights. The severity of her punishments suggested she was being targeted for her Christian religious beliefs. After she was released from prison, she lost her job and was dismissed from university. With little prospect of a future in Iran, she made the difficult decision to come to the United States in the hopes of finding safety and freedom. Once here, she found herself with no support network and ended up living in a homeless shelter in New York.

Using his technical expertise, journalistic background, and the collaborative filmmaking methodology practiced by SOC’s Community Voice Lab, Dehghanpour is guiding Mohammadi as she tells her own story through the project, which grapples with the question, “How much is a person willing to sacrifice to obtain their freedom?” For some portions of the film, Siamak talks Mary through the process of filming herself in locations with restricted access, like a monastery in Maryland where Mary lived for a year and various shelters where she has been a temporary resident. Although it is very risky for a Christian convert in Iran to talk about Mohammadi, a few friends have agreed to provide testimony about the hardship endured by the Christian community there for the past four decades, which Dehghanpour will weave into the film, which should be complete in the spring of 2024.