On a recent trip out West for a medical based assignment, I was met with a phone call from the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism about covering a special event for them once again. It is always a pleasure to receive these types of phone calls from them, as they are awesome to work with and their guests are usually very worthy of not only covering, but also very informative and cutting edge. (see- James Risen, and Daniel Ellsberg in the past).
This assignment once again fit the bill…
The Daily Show host and newly crowned director Jon Stewart was the assignment for the evening, with special guest Maziar Bahari in tow. Stewart’s yet to be released film “ROSEWATER” was being screened for the UCBSOJ students and faculty as well as for their special guests, with a lecture to follow the film. My assignment was to cover the event, the introductions, meet ups, the screening, behind the scenes, the 15 minute student interview session and of course, the aftermath with questions and answers of the guests on stage.
The film itself is based on the book “Then They Came for Me”, a story written by Bahari, an Iranian/Canadian journalist who was sent to Iran, to cover the 2009 presidential elections that pitted incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against reform-minded opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Bahari was on assignment at the time for Newsweek magazine when he was arrested and charged with being a spy.
After some trumped up charges, including the possession of pornography, Bahari is kept in prison and basically tortured for over 100 days, much like his father had been in the 1950’s. I won’t get too deep into the film here, as I suggest you go see it firsthand, especially if you are a member of the media or are planning a career that may take you out of the country. I will say that Stewart did a fine job in his directoral debut, and I hope this is not the only film he produces.
As for the event itself, Jon Stewart is a class act and if he has an ego, he left it at home on this night. The man was incredibly humble, joked with almost everyone that he interacted with and was a trooper even when his handlers were saying it was time to leave. His onstage aura was hypnotizing, the multi Emmy-award winning host of The Daily Show was definitely in his director role for this event. He never spoke out of turn, thus allowing Maziar to tell the story as he remembered it, with intense mental and physical struggles daily as his torturers tried to break him, even though he had actually done nothing wrong. The crowd of 600 in the packed house listened to every word that was spoken, and laughed nervously at some of the raw humor as the questions were answered. Berkeley Graduate students and staff alike asked honest and tough questions and at the end of the night, many lessons were learned. The time they spent onstage could have gone for hours if allowed, but the night was getting late, and the guests were off to Chicago the next day, so after about 45 minutes, the event ended.
Rosewater has won many awards at the film festivals where it has screened, and it will surely make a dent in this autumns’ national movie schedule. I like the fact that Jon Stewart was able to make this film based on a true story and that its main concern was the journalists that cover worldwide policy and conflict. If the real world would wake up and see what really happens outside of the U.S., and how it is reported, the world, our world, would be a much better place. Go see this film when it comes out, though I personally don’t think it will win an Oscar or Academy award, it is a very well documented story that needs to be seen. I truly enjoyed what I saw!
ROSEWATER images available on APImages.com Copyright Alex Menendez 2014