When was the last time a documentary film made you cry? I don't usually cry at most films, let alone documentaries, yet as I was watching The Green Wave, a film by Ali Samadi Ahadi from Dreamer Joint Venture productions, I found myself with tears pouring down my face. Originally released in Germany, the movie had its English language premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and is now showing in select theatres in North America. With a mixture of animation, interviews, and raw footage taken from camera phones and other clandestine means of photography, Ahadi recounts the events surrounding the 2009 elections in Iran which culminated in government-sanctioned violence against people protesting their results.
Green is the colour of Islam, but in Iran of 2009 it became associated with the campaign to have reform candidate, former Prime Minister of Iran Mir-Hossein Mousavi, elected President. The film opens prior to the election. The first things which are established are the fact there was dissatisfaction, especially among the young, with the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. What was especially troubling was that, with billions of dollars in oil revenues during his presidency, the economy had worsened and there were fewer opportunities for employment for young people. Then the film introduces us to Mousavi and his campaign for president.
We learn how the campaign had booked a large sports arena in Tehran for a political rally. The campaign workers were nervous whether enough people would show up to make it worthwhile. Then, when they arrive at the arena to start setting up for the rally, they discover the size of their support. People began showing up hours in advance, offering to help. It wasn't just young people or students who supported Mousavi, there were people from all walks of life, including members of the clergy and the military. People who had given up hope of there ever being significant change in Iran began to have hope again.
Then came the election. The first nasty shock was the ballots were designed to be confusing. In order to vote for a candidate you had to write a code in the box next to their name. While the codes were posted on the walls of the polling stations, nobody had been prepared for this rather odd practice. Then reports started coming in of polling stations mysteriously running out of ballots with people still waiting to vote and other polling stations closing hours before voting was due to stop. Confusion was high, and then things started to turn ugly. The government cancelled all visas for foreign press, shut down satellite transmission and all other means of communication with the outside world. As one person being interviewed said, they should have known something odd was going on as during the last couple of hours of voting, the state television station started showing nature programs instead of election coverage.