Boarders Without Borders: Snowboard Culture in Iran
Published on 09/10/2012
By Mallory Ayres
When people think of Iran, many things might come to mind: desert, long beards, the Koran and perhaps even nuclear weapons and terrorists, not necessarily 15,000 foot peaks lush with powder and a youth counter culture centered around snowboarding. When New York City filmmakers Marjan Tehrani, Nick Catania and Brian Sachson discovered this lesser known side of Iran, they teamed up to create a documentary called Boarders Without Borders, which will bring a team of four pro snowboarders including Hannah Teter and Gabi Viteri to the best Iranian resorts and backcountry this March to not only get some serious shredding in, but hopefully open up a dialogue between riders in both countries about their shared passion. We had a chance to talk with Producer Sachson about the amazing pow in Iran, the most misunderstood thing about Iranian culture, and the impact he hopes the project will have.
Q: How did the idea for Boarders Without Borders come to be?
A: We had all worked together in New York on various different projects. Nick is an avid snowboarder and came to me with the idea after he read an article in Outside Magazine about snowboarding in Iran. He said, ‘I didn’t realize they had mountains and snow there - when you think Iran you think desert. Wouldn’t it be a great idea to bring Americans over there and have them snowboard with Iranians given all the political strife between the two countries?’ I thought it was a great idea and I said, ‘Let me talk to a filmmaker that I know, she’s Iranian American.’ I brought it to Marjan and we took off from there. We are lucky to have Marjan because she has directed a documentary shot in Iran before, and as two Americans it would have been very difficult without an Iranian American.
Q:What are the most important goals of this project?
A: We like to tell people that this film will be about snowboarding, but it really isn’t only about snowboarding, it’s a movie about people. We really want to get across the idea that no matter what politics our two countries are involved in, no matter what problems our governments have; Iranian people are just like us. We want to show Americans going on an amazing adventure to a part of the world that hasn’t been traveled to as much by people from the U.S. We want to show that there are people over there that enjoy the same things that we do here. Sometimes sports can bridge a gap between people.
Q: How were the pros chosen for this project?
A: We definitely wanted to bring two guys and two girls on, and going through the selection process we finally came to Hannah Teter, and through Hannah we came across Gabi Viteri as well. Hannah definitely has the star appeal - she’s an Olympic gold medalist. We actually went to a lot of riders, and they said it sounds like a great idea and then for one reason or another they pull out, either their management doesn’t want them to be involved or their families think that it’s dangerous, but Hannah and Gabi were on board from the beginning, and they are fully in to it. We are still searching for our male riders, so we haven’t released yet who they will be, but we will be working on that in the upcoming months.
Q: How is the snow in Iran? Where will the pros be riding?
A: The capital of Iran is Tehran and the Alborz mountain range surrounds it. There is a resort called Tochal, which is right outside the city - you can actually see the city from the mountains. We’ll do some filming in Tehran just to get a cultural background and then we’ll film in Tochal because it is right there. But the majority of the principal photography will take place deeper in the Alborz Mountains. There are two resorts, one is called Dizin, which is what I understand to be the most famous resort and the biggest one, and there is another one that is smaller but it is better for backcountry which is called Shemshak. The snow is supposed to be great, I think the elevation is around 15,000 feet. Their resorts stay open until May; it’s incredible. Just from video that we’ve shot from crews that we’ve hired in Iran to get some preliminary stuff it looks incredible, so hopefully when we go in March the powder will be really good. I know last year we didn’t get as good of a winter as we would have liked, but hopefully over there by March there will be some good powder.
Q: Can you describe what the Iranian snowboarding counter culture is like?
A: The government of Iran is very restrictive toward people, particularly towards women. All women have to wear a hijab, which is a scarf that you wear around your head. It’s not like the burqa where your face is covered, but even any woman that travels there has to put on the customary scarf. In the mountains it is way less restrictive, so you have you lots of kids that go out there and you have women on the slopes with their hair down and not wearing these garments. They are kind of out of the eye of the police and the government and they are free to do what they want. They just get out there and do their thing, just like kids do here, and they’ve really embraced it.
Since we launched our Kickstarter campaign and started our Facebook page there have been so many Iranian people who have told us how excited they are to have American riders come, particularly the pros, and what they can offer us. They have been saying, ‘You can stay here,’ or ‘You can stay there,’ and ‘We’d love to do the shoot here,’ and ‘Can I be a part of this?’ It’s really been kind of crazy, especially with social networking, to see such a big reaction from the youth like this.
Q: Besides the shear love of the sport, why is snowboarding so important to Iranian youth?
A: I think it is an escape for them, and it’s a passion that they can get behind. They can go and meet like-minded people and they can get away from any problems that they are having, problems that Americans definitely aren’t used to. I mean, we all have our problems, but not like I think some of the Iranian youth, particularly with the government that they’ve been living under. So I think this is a way for them to escape and for them to be a part of something - a niche. That’s all hearsay, from Iranians that I’ve spoken with and from what people have said when they’ve contacted us about the project. Everyone is different, so I can’t speak for everyone, but that’s what we’ve gathered.
Q: What do people misunderstand about Iranian culture?
A: I would say number one thing is that they don’t like Americans. Unlike the problems that our government has with their government, most Iranians love America and they love the concept of America and Western ideals. They have a desire to be Westernized. Our director Marjan directed a film over there and there us a great quote in her previous film from when she was interviewing an Iranian man, a local business owner, and he was talking about how 90% of the Iranian population does not agree with the Iranian government, they don’t like the way that they are being ruled and they have a desire for democracy, so this concept that they hate us, that’s just not true.
Q: Boarders Without Borders has been in development for several years due to political and regulatory considerations. Can you describe what some of those considerations are? Why is fundraising so important?
A: Due to the political nature of the film, a lot of potential sponsors have shied away from it. They say, ‘Oh this is a great concept and we can’t wait to see the film, but we just don’t want to have our cooperation or organization supporting this type of project.’ Look, I completely understand. I understand why someone would shy away from it, so that is one of the setbacks we have in terms of fundraising. We are doing Kickstarter and the crowdfunding platform because it really utilizes people who want the movie to be made. Other than that, there are other big steps that we have to take: permits have to be secured, you have to get permission from the Iranian government, you need get permission from our government in terms of an OFAC license. There are also visas and all the logistics have to be taken care of. You can’t just drop in and set up - we’ll be under the watch of government chaperones who will know exactly where we are at all times and who will be with us at all times. You can’t really make any movies in that country without the government knowing exactly where you are. Those are all big hurdles.
Q: What impact do you hope this film will have?
A: I just want to open people’s minds about what else is out there in the world. I think Americans in particular become content with what they know and what they are used to. I think there is an amazing, incredible world out there, a lot of which maybe we are scared of. In film you can show how different things are but also how similar they are as well. I hope this project opens up dialogue between Americans and Iranians, but I also hope we make a fun film on top of that - it doesn’t have to be all serious. We want this to be about the sport and about adventure. We don’t want to make some huge political statement.
Q: How can we get involved?
A: Definitely the best way to get involved is spread the word on Facebook or Twitter or donate to our Kickstarter. That’s the biggest thing right now - just getting people behind the project, even if it means donating a dollar or ten dollars. Any fans of snowboarding, any fans of documentary, any fans of political or international affairs, please get involved.
Q: When is the film’s premier?
A: Hopefully we’ll start shooting middle of March. We’ll start with a week in the States to warm up, then two weeks in Iran and a following week back in the U.S. Follow that up with six months post production and hopefully we will be finished and ready to submit to the festivals – Sundance or Tribeca – later in 2013. Tribeca gave us a grant for this project so it would be great to have it premier in a Tribeca film festival.
The Boarders Without Borders Kickstarter will be open this week, and end this Sunday. If you would like to donate to Boarders Without Borders, please visit their Kickstarter page.