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Iranian Diaspora Spotlight: The Making of a Movie—Report from the Frontlines of “We Are Here” Documentary

By Roya Ahmadi, Summer Intern at the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies

Golden Thread Productions Artistic Director and Founder, Torange Yeghiazarian

Historic, brave, and diasporic — the story of an immigrant community’s determination and the challenges of living as hyphenated Iranians—all themes being explored in “We are Here, We’ve Always Been Here,” the ground-breaking documentary in progress directed by Dr. Persis Karim of the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies and Soumyaa Behrens of the SFSU Documentary Film Institute. This particular segment of filming, in which I participated, featured a Golden Thread Productions rehearsal and an interview with the founder and executive artistic director, Torange Yeghiazarian.

Actress Atosa Babaoff began the emotional reading of playwright Yussef El Guindi’s “Brass Knuckles — breaking into tears, fuming with anger, and smiling with hope. This short play, part of Golden Thread’s “ReOrient Festival” (in the fall) is a monologue by an angry, proud, brass knuckles-wearing Muslim woman, who reflects on her predicament and powerfully juxtaposes her fierceness with a vulnerability that reveals her insecurities and her desire to do right by her faith. I was captivated by the emotions, the thoughtful conversation over Skype with the playwright and the director and actress. Like others in the room, I was moved by the play and the performance and nearly forgot that I was not an audience member, but part of something else—the making of a necessary and timely film about Iranian Americans in the Bay Area. 

“We Are Here, We’ve Always Been Here” Co-directors Dr. Persis Karim and Soumyaa Behrens

Following the rehearsal, inquiring thoughtfully and listening carefully, Dr. Karim interviewed Yeghiazarian, drawing out her beautiful, painful, immigrant story about having to leave Iran at a critical age in her adolescence shortly before the 1979 Iranian revolution. Behrens captured the scene behind the lens of the camera, choosing to film the intimate interview in a tranquil setting: on the steps of an old wooden staircase at the University of San Francisco. Yeghiazarian told her narrative honestly and completely; beginning with what she described as her “indescribably painful” separation from her homeland, through the triumphs and tragedies that shaped her creative journey and intent to tell diverse Middle Eastern stories on the stage.

The Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies and the Documentary Film Institute will continue their filming throughout the course of the year to capture the stories of the rich, multi-generational, Iranian diaspora community in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Visit the documentary’s Facebook page: to learn more about the project and keep up with its progress!

IMG_7972Roya Ahmadi is the high school summer intern for the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies. She was first introduced to the Center when she attended the “Once at Present” exhibit sponsored by the Center for the “Forty Years & More” conference in March 2019. Intrigued by the way the exhibition challenged her perception of Iranian art, she became excited about the prospect of learning about and contributing to the Center’s work and mission. Since June, Roya has interviewed and written worked on a number of projects including writing about important figures in the Iranian diaspora for the Center’s blog, “With a Trace”; has helped promote projects on social media such as documentary film project, “We Are Here, We’ve Always Been Here.”

Roya dreams of pursuing her interests in computer science and art, but until then keeps busy as the captain of her school’s speech and debate and field hockey teams, reads, travels, and enjoys trying new foods and experiences. She will be entering her junior year at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino this coming fall, and fluently speaks, reads, and writes Mandarin Chinese and Farsi. 



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