Extraordinary Women, Extraordinary Films 

Eighth annual Family of Woman Film Festival comes to Boise, Sun Valley

Nigeria's pro-democracy movement is explored in The Supreme Price (left); a young Iranian woman dreams of traveling to space in Sepideh (center); and an American teen coordinates protests in Syria in #chicagoGirl (right)

Joanna Lipper/The Supreme Price

Nigeria's pro-democracy movement is explored in The Supreme Price (left); a young Iranian woman dreams of traveling to space in Sepideh (center); and an American teen coordinates protests in Syria in #chicagoGirl (right)

There's a scene in the documentary Sepideh: Reaching for the Stars that should resonate with parents of teenagers everywhere: 16-year-old Sepideh, an Iranian girl, is chastised by her mother for staying out late with her astronomy club, sky-watching.

"You need your sleep because you have other important things to do," the mother scolds.

Instead of unleashing epithets as an American teen might do, though, Sepideh unsheathes a sword of rhetoric.

"My pain is not the fences around the pond, but to live among fish that can't imagine the ocean," she recites, in a quote attributed to Mohammad Mossadegh, the ex-prime minister of Iran ousted in an American-backed coup in 1953.

Sepideh's mother spars back with her own line of poetry: "Even in a world where people steal from the blind, I will keep my optimism and faith in love."

Iranians have come to know such "poetry battles" are endemic to Persian culture; and it's one of the rites of life director Berit Madsen captures in her poignant documentary about a teenage girl who aspires to be an astronaut despite great odds, including a death threat from a family member.

"To me, Sepideh is a film about hope," says Madsen, a Danish anthropologist who traveled to Iran nine times over five years to document the twists and turns of her subject's life.

"It's telling us that if we're willing to fight for our dreams then we might reach further that we ourselves believed."

The film will screen on Wednesday, February 25 as part of the Family of Woman Film Festival at Boise State University's Special Events Center and again on Friday, February 27 at the Sun Valley Opera House.

The tale follows the indomitable and aptly-named Sepideh (her name means "dawn") as she pushes back against social norms towards her goal, inspired by Iranian-American private astronaut Anousheh Ansari.

Ansari, who paid an estimated $20 million to go to the International Space Station in 2006, and who appears in the documentary, will appear on the stage of the Sun Valley Opera House on Friday, Feb. 27 to answer questions after the screening, along with American astronaut and Idaho native Barbara Morgan. Morgan will also be at the Boise State event, along with Mona Rafatzadeh, the film's assistant director.

Editor's note: Marcia Franklin will be moderating the discussions following the screenings: 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, February 25th at Boise State; 7:00 p.m., Friday, February 27 at the Sun Valley Opera House.

Indeed, Sepideh's story has inspired the theme of this year's Family of Woman Film Festival, "Women and Their Dreams," said festival founder Peggy Goldwyn.

"I like the idea of picking something that's fairly broad, and examining it in many different ways," she told Boise Weekly.

To that end, the festival's slate also includes The Supreme Price, about Nigerian human rights activist Hafsat Abiola.

Abiola's father, Moshood Abiola, ran for president of Nigeria in 1993 and is widely viewed to have won. But before taking office, Moshood Abiola was arrested, and died in prison in 1998. His wife (and Hafsat's mother) was murdered in 1996. Despite such danger, Hafsat Abiola has returned to his native land multiple times since 1999 to work on women's issues.

"I have always had a particular interest in films about complex, multifaceted women who defy expectations and create their own destinies rather than surrendering to circumstances," said The Supreme Price director Joanna Lipper.

Lipper and Hafsat Abiola will be in Sun Valley for the screening of their film and will travel to Boise for screening at Boise State on Friday, Feb. 27.

Also screening this year is #chicagoGirl, the story of another determined Muslim female teen.

Ala'a Basatneh, a Syrian-American living near Chicago, acts as a kind of global social media air traffic controller, linking communications between activist groups in Syria to coordinate protests, and then sending video of the often-violent clashes to journalists around the world.

The documentary includes harrowing and ultimately heart-wrenching footage shot by Bassel Shahade, who was killed while filming in Homs, a Syrian city under siege in the ongoing civil war.

Director Joe Piscatella, who read about Basatneh through news reports, says he was inspired by her and her compatriots.

"When I was growing up we were told that you had to wait until you were an adult to make a difference," said Piscatella. "These activists, most of whom are students, believe they can change the world now. A teenager, 6000 miles away, using the only tools at her disposal, made a difference in a very difficult part of the world."

Both Piscatella and Basatneh, now 22, will be in Sun Valley for the Saturday, Feb. 28, screening of their film.

Piscatella is one of three men with films at the event, another being Mohammed Naqvi, an up-and-coming Pakistani director. Naqvi will talk about his work and show his most recent documentary, Pakistan's Hidden Shame, about child sex trafficking in that country on Sunday, March 1, at the Sun Valley Opera House.

Goldwyn says she's enthused to see the work of male filmmakers in the festival, as well as more male attendees at the event, now in its eighth year.

"I think it's fantastic," said Goldwyn. "We're not going to solve these problems until men realize how important it is and they have a buy-in."

'#chicagoGirl: The Social Network Takes On A Dictator' from The Playlist on Vimeo.

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