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November 17, 2014

Jon Stewart’s first movie tackles torture in Iran


“Rosewater,” the first movie directed by “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, shows how it is possible to find humor and humanity even in the darkest of places.

The film tells the story of journalist Maziar Bahari, who was arrested in Iran in 2009 while on assignment covering a presidential election in which reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi challenged President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Bahari appeared on “The Daily Show” in an interview with Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones, who was visiting Iran. Shortly afterward, Bahari was arrested, charged with spying, and placed in solitary confinement.  Iranian officials used the comedy show’s interview as partial evidence against him. Media and advocacy groups protested his arrest and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out in support of Bahari.

Iran released Bahari four months later, just before his wife gave birth to their first child. He documented his journey in the memoir “Then They Came For Me.” Stewart was moved by Bahari’s story to write and direct the film, which he shot for three months in Jordan, including in a Jordanian prison. Gabriel García Bernal stars in the film as Bahari.

Though the film contains humor, it is far from Stewart’s normal fare on “The Daily Show,” where he uses a more straightforward brand of comedy. The movie is billed as a drama and Stewart said its humor highlights darker elements in the film.

“Even in the darkest time, humor is one of those elements that you can retain your sense of humanity with,” he said. “It can give you some comfort and act as some defense.”

The movie, like “The Daily Show,” is part of a larger conversation within our culture, said Stewart.

“The conversation is about the space between the public face of our leaders vs. the private strategies that produce that face, the facade that’s placed over it. The conversation is about corruption, whether it comes to governance or whether it comes to media. The conversation is about, you know, what is activism?”

Warm up questions
  1. Where is Iran?
  2. How do programs like The Daily Show use comedy to shed light on a serious situation? Have you ever used that method? Does it work?
  3. Do you like books, TV shows or films that are comedies? Why or why not?
Critical thinking questions
  1. Why do you think Jon Stewart wanted to make this film in particular?
  2. Maziar Bahair, whose story is being told in the film, was a journalist at the time he was taken prisoner by the Iranian government. Why might a government want to imprison a journalist? What rights and protections do journalists have in the United States compared to the journalists in Iran?
  3. Jon Stewart says satire is a way to “express ideas and synthesize information that you truly believe in.” How does satire work? How do you think Stewart figures out if he is being too serious or offensive?
  4. What are strengths and weaknesses of relying on comedies like The Daily Show as a source of news?
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