As I drove to and from work each day, I drive by signs declaring that "Heroes Work Here." This is, of course, a noble effort to celebrate the efforts of many healthcare professionals who have worked passionately to care for the thousands impacted by a global pandemic that has devastated not just my own country of the United States but countries around the world.
And yet, at times, I wonder if we've reached a place where the word hero has become the word we grasp for when we are inspired or admire our fellow human beings.
Is it ever applicable? Of course. Is it always applicable? Of course not.
As I sat down to view the latest Nobel Legacy Film from the acclaimed PeaceJam, a global youth organization led by 14 Nobel Peace Laureates dedicated to growing and supprotign a generation of future Nobel Peace Laureates who believe peace is possible - and know how to get it done. This film, Shirin Ebadi: Until We Are Free, vividly captures the story of Shirin Ebadi, the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Shirin Ebadi has inspired millions around the globe through her passionate work as a human rights lawyer defending women and children courageously and defiantly in the face of a government that set out to destroy her, her family, and her mission. Despite what most would see as a noble mission, bringing justice to the people and the country she loves, the Islamic Republic has tried to intimidate Ebadi, wiretapped her phones, bugged her law firm, had spies follow her, harassed her colleagues, detained her daughter, and arrested her sister on trumped-up charges. It has shut down her lectures, fired up mobs to attack her home, seized her offices, and nailed a death threat to her front door.
Despite living under these dramatic circumstances, Ebadi has not been silenced.
Having become a regular reviewer of PeaceJam's films, I've had the joy of watching the growth of writer/director Dawn Gifford Engle as a filmmaker over the years. While I have loved every PeaceJam film, perhaps unsurprising considering my own history as an activist, it's practically undeniable that with each film Engle grows as a filmmaker and each film shows tremendous growth. The same is true for Shirin Ebadi: Until We Are Free, an engaging and accomplished work expertly weaving together archival footage, interviews with Ebadi, beautifully drawn animation, and a convincingly structured history of Iran that provides knowledge and perspective. Also the co-founder of PeaceJam, Engle's artistic voice is crystal clear here and we're left in awe of a woman who has, quite literally, risked everything she has including her life in the name of justice.
Shirin Ebadi: Until We Are Free had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and has already picked up several prizes along its festival journey. There's no doubt this will continue and there's no doubt the film will follow other Nobel Legacy Films into a distribution deal as it so richly deserves. The timing is extra poignant and powerful as the public outcry in Iran widens following the suspicious death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16th of this year, a young woman arrested by the Guidance Patrol for allegedly violating Iran's strict dress code who died while in custody. While the Law Enforcement Command attributed the death to a heart attack, the claim is suspect at best.
The struggle continues and the power of Shirin Ebadi: Until We Are Free is palpable.
“Human rights are a universal standard. They are a component of every religion and every civilization," Ebadi has declared and this basic belief radiates throughout every moment of this remarkable documentary based upon her life. Music by Cyril Morin companions the film effectively throughout and Elizabeth Holloway's editing work maximizes the film's intellectual and emotional resonance. This is a film that will make you think and make you feel.
As is seemingly always true of the PeaceJam films, Shirin Ebadi: Until We Are Free powerfully captures the life of a woman who practically defines what it means to be a hero. Yet, as is also always true of PeaceJam films, Shirin Ebadi: Until We Are Free is also a powerful reminder that it is not enough to be inspired by Ebadi's world-changing work. We must act on that inspiration and ally ourselves by becoming more engaged in our communities and alongside those who are working to address the complex problems facing humanity and the planet.
Shirin Ebadi: Until We Are Free reminds us that peace is, indeed, possible.
Let it begin with me.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic