History Slam Episode 142: Born in Evin

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By Sean Graham

Born in Evin is playing Sunday February 2 at 1pm at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto as part of the 17th Annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival. Following the film there will be a discussion led by Tara Sepehri Far, a researcher in the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch.

In the Evin neighbourhood of Tehran, there is a prison. Both before and after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, it was home to political prisoners in a purpose-built wing which, because of the number of intellectuals imprisoned, became known as Evin University. In 1988, the Iranian government began a 5-month series of state-sponsored executions of political prisoners, including many at Evin. Not all were killed, however, as some prisoners survived and managed to escape Iran to safety.

The story of one of these survivors is the subject of the new documentary Born in Evin. The film follows actress Maryam Zaree, who was born in the prison, try to learn about the conditions here parents endured at Evin, the earliest days of her life, and how she and her mother ended up living in Germany. Faced with family members who do not want to talk about their experiences, Zaree goes on an emotional journey in which trauma, fear, and, frankly, love come together to shape her family’s story. Dripping with humanity, the film invites the the viewer to not only consider what happened at Evin and the state of human rights in Iran, but also about their own personal relationships and how we each deal with trauma in our lives.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Tara Sepehri Far of Human Rights Watch about the film. We talk about the Iranian Revolution, the government’s imprisonment of political opposition, and human rights abuses in Iran. We also talk about Maryam’s story, the challenges of researching Iran, and the role of social media in fostering political debate.

Sean Graham is a historian with Parks Canada and an Adjunct Professor at Carleton University. He is also the host/producer of the History Slam Podcast.


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