In 2011, Sara Najafi, a young composer from Tehran, decides to try and make her dream become a reality: hosting a public concert featuring the best contemporary Iranian and French female singers. But public performances by solo female vocalists in front of men have been banned in Iran since 1979.
To stage such a concert, Sara has to coordinate the busy schedules of the performers as well as secure the agreement both of the Iranian culture ministry and the religious authorities. Over three years, the camera traces her progress, the highs and lows as agreements are issued then revoked, permits offered then declined, forcing Sara to start the process all over again. But she is tenacious and firmly believes that eventually the concert will take place.
Bird of Dawn is a fascinating and dramatic film, giving deep insight into modern Iranian voices and views and exploring with tact and sensitivity Iran’s musical heritage and the issues of censorship and prohibition.
By Ayat Najafi
My sister Sara has always been passionate about music. She has been playing the piano since she was four and was enrolled at a music school by the age of 12. Later on she became the first woman in Iran to be awarded a diploma in music composition.
But her journey has been difficult and watching her go through the challenges of being a female musician in Iran has highlighted, for me, the difficulties facing Iranian women in my country today.
With this film, I wanted to shed light on the problems faced by a new generation of Iranian musicians. Sara’s love of music is the most important element in her everyday life, and with the help of her musician friends, she attempts to arrange a concert in Iran, a country where women are not allowed to sing in public as soloists.
For Sara, the opportunity presented a lifelong dream which could finally become a reality.
Music played a crucial role in all social and political developments in Iran during the 20th century. Music represented and gave a voice to the desires of each period in Iran’s history.
Even though many female singers have left Iran since the revolution in 1979, many of them remain. The very fact that many more young girls attend music schools than boys is ironic to me. Why are they learning something considered forbidden for them?
My film follows the group’s step-by-step process of organising a concert in Tehran, as they question the system of censorship head-on, in front of the camera.
In terms of a strategy for telling the story, we decided to film Sara as she “naively” seeks to achieve her goal. This strategy allowed us to record all stages of her journey to authoroise the concert, including requests and meetings with departmental officials and religious authorities. It also allowed us to highlight the logic of this censorship which is enforced by the Iranian regime.
The film focuses on Sara as the central character, while her musician friends – mostly from France – serve as a sort of poignant counterpoint, between culture-shock and artistic solidarity.
We experience the voyage to Tehran through the eyes of three female singers from Paris: Elise Caron, Jeanne Cherhal and Emel Mathlouthi. They are accompanied by three male musicians, who become more and more aware of the reality of being a female singer in Iran as they join Sara and participate actively in her fight.
Iranian singers Parvin Namazi, Sayeh Sodeyfi and the other Iranian musicians, also join their struggle. Here the act of singing, as the strongest expression of the body, is used as a tool of female strength to fight against oppression.
In the 1920s, legendary female singer Qamar had managed to free the voice of women in Iran. She passed on music from inside to outside, from the private domain – where it was confined – to the public world. It is because of Qamar’s struggle that I dedicate this film to her. She fought the very same fight Sara and her friends have to lead today. Her persistence has inspired within us a desire to challenge the new government of Iran.