Director: Sara Bahramjahan
Running time: 35mins
Movies by artists from low-income backgrounds, by opposition groups hit by censorship, or by individuals in nations hit by international sanctions, still need a platform. This year, Indy Film Library is looking to provide them with one.
Over the next six weeks, the first season of our Saturday Matinees will showcase work from Brazil, Iran, Egypt and other places where monetary and legal constraints have prevented the free communication of political and social issues.
The second film in our series comes from Sara Bahramjahan of Iran. Childfree is a short documentary focused on the growing number of women in Iran who are deciding not to get pregnant. According to Bahramjahan, 40% of couples in the Islamic Republic are currently of this opinion – and face great social resistance from traditionalists; some of whom shockingly brand the trend a “sickness” that threatens the social institution of the family.
Featuring a number of organic debates, the movie offers a window into the fractures of modern Iran in ways many viewers will never have seen before. Travelling through the country’s capital, Bahramjahan speaks with women of many walks of life – some unemployed, some working as performing artists, others running stores to bring in an income – all of whom are linked by a social pressure to bring children into the world.
Standout scenes include a forthright discussion at a pharmacy when one shopper talks about her in-laws badgering her into taking fertility treatments, and a debate at a Koran study group in which some in attendance assert young women should not care about the broader environment when conceiving – just have kids and God will sort out the rest. While the documentary explicitly tackles issues directly impacting the women of Iran, however, in this regard, it also touches on topics that will have a grim familiarity to audiences around the world.
It is depressing to note how the discourse on maternity has shifted over the last 70-odd years. In the US and UK, many people now slating Millennials and Gen-Z as ‘lazy’ or ‘selfish’ for being childless were conceived in a post-war boom where, in a period of relative peace, huge investments in healthcare, infrastructure and education were taking place. The idea of having a baby then bought into a brand of optimism that simply does not have grounds to exist anymore.
Health services are being privatised. Education has been the target of decades of slash-and-burn austerity. The illusion of peace has passed, while the environment collapses. Even if your children are lucky enough not to be gunned down at school by an active shooter – or a cop supposedly there for their own safety – children born now will most likely have a worse quality of life, and life-expectancy, than their parents. The discussion on giving birth has morphed alongside these changes; what was once “things can only get better” is now “look, there is never a perfect time to have children, just get on with it”.
Meanwhile, if young women should ask for some reassurances before bringing new life into the world, the older figures keen for them to do so are oddly reluctant to provide any. “Thoughts and prayers” are always easier to offer up than gun control laws, it seems.
In her note to Indy Film Library, Bahramjahan explained, “Childfree is a 35-minute documentary about women who have chosen to be childfree in today’s economically and socially unstable Iran, where couples are strongly encouraged to have children.”
Bahramjahan added that due to the “taboo of talking about such subjects” in Iran, her team “faced lots of challenges for producing it,” including “prohibition of making films about these subjects in our country and low budget”. Even so, this taboo only motivated her further to put a film together, “and give a chance to women whose ideas are ignored in my country.”
“It makes this film more special for me,” she concluded.
Childfree is a unique and compelling insight into a part of the world often obscured from view – and gives a voice to a group of people often marginalised and abused by society. That is not to say it is perfect. Many of the subjects struggle to adhere to their own line of this being a matter of personal choice, when it comes to people who choose differently – labelling anyone who has kids “idiots” or questioning their morality at different points. But just because the world is getting worse, doesn’t mean that it has to – and many people, childless or otherwise, are trying to turn things around. At the same time, Childfree offers very little in the way of engaging with or fixing any of the issues its subjects bemoan, instead glorifying their withdrawal from society to chase individual happiness (generally that only works out as long as you have time and money on your side). Perhaps that is difficult to do, though, within the socio-political context where the film was produced…
All in all, however, it is remarkable – in that in just over half-an-hour, it shows how different Iran and the rest of the world might be on the surface, but also how disturbingly authoritarian the debates over women’s reproductive choices in both contexts still are.
The film will be available to view in full from tomorrow, until the end of the weekend, via our Saturday Matinees theatre page. As the film is still trying to gain access to other festivals, the page is password protected. Use the code IFLMATINEE2223 to access the film.