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Sports | Carving Snow, Breaking the Ice: 'Boarders without Borders'


17 Aug 2012 18:04Comments
556224_428078603878751_1844586766_n.jpg Forthcoming documentary to track U.S. snowboarders on Iranian slopes.

[ film ] In the 30 years since the fall of the Shah, we have seen many attempts at "cultural diplomacy" between the United States and Iran. American artists, filmmakers, actors, and athletes have visited Iran in hopes of reestablishing good relations. Next spring, three American snowboarders plan to follow in their path with a trip to the mountains in hopes of experiencing Iranian "powder." Directors Marjan Tehrani and Nick Catania will follow and film them for a documentary titled Boarders without Borders.

In 2007, Catania read an article about snowboarding in Iran. Surprised, the 43-year-old documentary filmmaker saw an opportunity for a new kind of snowboarding movie. He approached his friend Brian Sachson, who would become the film's producer, and described his idea of bringing American snowboarders to Iran, where they would meet Iranian boarders and provide an intriguing subject for a documentary. Five years later, Catania's dream is becoming a reality.

Finding snowboarders who would agree to travel to Iran hasn't been easy. Codirector Tehrani, who has directed another Iran-based documentary, Arusi, said it comes down to education, or a lack thereof. "People know very little about Iran at the end of the day.... It's fear and not really knowing what to expect." Tehrani is familiar with shooting in Iran, but usually does not focus on sports (Arusi was about an Iranian American marrying his American wife in Tehran). Catania has worked on other "action sports" films.

Obviously, the imprisonment of three American hitchhikers until last year made things tougher. Boarders' families, already concerned about the prospect of their loved ones traveling to Iran, had a new set of fears. But rejections made the crew even more passionate about the project, says Sachson. "Every time we've ran into an obstacle, it gives more of a driving force to make the film -- just to show audiences what it's like over there."

Thus far, Boarders Without Borders has confirmed that professional snowboarders Gabi Viteri and Olympic medal-winning Hannah Teter will be along for the trip. Teter has won Olympic gold and silver in the halfpipe competition, a fan favorite in which snowboarders jump off one side of a steep, snow-covered structure and perform aerial acrobatics. For Viteri, a 22-year old Burton-sponsored snowboarder who's never been to the Middle East, the trip goes beyond sports. "I am a big believer," she says, that "bringing the world together and not seeing each other as separate beings but all as one will solve a lot of the world's issues at hand right now." The movie team already has a group in Iran ready to welcome them and help navigate logistics once they touch ground in Tehran. Using Facebook, the directors have also connected with Iranian snowboarders to arrange for a meeting on the slopes with the Americans.

Viteri, Teter, and another as yet unnamed boarder will do their riding on the slopes of the Alborz Mountains, just north of Tehran. Last March, Nokia sponsored a snowboarding competition at the Dizin International Ski Resort in the Alborz, and in 2008 Iran hosted its own international snowboarding festival at the range's Tochal resort. At that competition, Iran's team, up against countries like Australia and Slovenia, finished first.

American athletes' journeys to Iran in recent decades have left a mixed legacy. In 1998, for instance, the U.S. wrestling team visited Iran for the first time since it became the Islamic Republic for an international competition. At the time, one American wrestler told the Associated Press, "I never know what to expect wherever I go, but more so here because other countries don't call us 'Great Satan.'" The crowd greeted the American wrestlers with cheers -- the loudest given to any of the visiting countries -- when the team donned a U.S. flag their Iranian hosts had surprised them with before the introductions.

"We had brought our own flag, but we had no need for it, because they had one already for us. That showed caring," said the American wrestling coach. For many, it was a watershed moment, proof that no matter the political differences between their governments, Americans and Iranians could unite when it came to shared cultural interests.

But just four years later, the U.S. wrestling team canceled another trip to Iran. American wrestling officials cited a "credible threat" to the players' safety.

Tehrani, who was raised by her Iranian father in Berkeley, California, sees the project as part of her lifelong mission. "I hope relations really shift. That's what this project is for me...allowing the youth of Iran and the States to connect on a different level than most films I do see about Iran." Unlike those pictures she's encountered, Tehrani says Boarders without Borders will not be about politics, but instead about "youth cultures coming together and doing what they love."

Some see public cultural visits to Iran by Americans and other Westerners as naïve. Given the Iranian government's alleged support for terrorist groups and its controversial nuclear program, they say, it's the threat that Iran poses that should be the West's focus, regardless of potential "people to people" connections. The directors of Boarders without Borders disagree. Tehrani explains, "If we base our understanding on what we know politically, it's such a lost opportunity to learn who a people are and what a place is all about."

The plan is for the film crew and snowboarders to head to Iran in March, in time for the Iranian New Year, and stay for several weeks. Before then, the filmmakers hope to raise money through Kickstarter; they estimate that they will need $125,000 to fund the picture. For Teter, the trip and the opportunity to highlight Iran's emerging snowboard scene can't come fast enough. "A lot of people think it is a bad idea.... That makes me want to go even more, because we'll be able to see and show this beautiful country of Iran and the snowboarders there that nobody seems to know much about."

by the same author | Cycle of Repression and Protest: Iranian Arabs in Khuzestan (with Robin Mills)

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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