Feb 4, 2004

version #1

A Short Report From the Border

Bahman Kiarostami

With the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime a lot of Iranians who were eager to go on a pilgrimage to the Iraqi sacred cities took advantage of the official disorder in Iraq and illegally entered the country. In summer of 2003, particularly between late July and late August, each day three to four thousand Iranians crossed the border without permission.

However, before reaching Karbala or even the first villages in Iraqi territory, many of them lost their lives. Some trod on the land mines left over from the Iran-Iraq war, some were attacked by bandits, and some others who lost their way, died of [heat and] thirst and their bodies were returned to their country. The death toll reached such an extent that the morgues in border towns were not capable of holding the increasing number of corpses. That was while the Iranian authorities repeatedly warned people against going on such trips. Even some religious leaders declared such trips as canonically prohibited. But that did not diminish the swarm of pilgrims.

The above paragraph exemplifies the news stories frequently published in the press in the summer of 2003. The issue of Karbala had turned to an unsolvable problem for the [Iranian] government, while it was a fervent passion for the people. Thus I was motivated to go to the border town of Mehran to make a documentary film on the pilgrims. Mehran, located less than 150 kilometers from Iraq, is the nearest Iranian town to Karbala and therefore has the biggest share of the pilgrimage traffic.

The film is not finished yet. At the moment I am editing it, coping with those twenty-odd hours of rushes. The film is entirely shot in the border town of Mehran, most of it in the public prosecutor’s office. Frankly, at the beginning we intended to accompany a caravan to see what happens to the pilgrims, how they leave and how they return. But as soon as we entered the public prosecutor’s office on the second day of the filming, we changed our minds. That was because any departing or arriving caravan would end up at that place. With three to four thousand people illegally departing and the same number arriving every day, there would be about seven thousand criminals every day whose cases should be investigated in a small courthouse consisting of only a few rooms.

Criminal pilgrims or pilgrim criminals, the film is about them.

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