The continuing fallout from the Islamic revolution that toppled the shah, ranging from the broadly political to the intimately personal, is the subject of three spellbinding documentaries to be televised during the next week. Watching them makes it depressingly clear what a vast gulf -- of history, of politics, of culture, of elemental perception of human nature — exists between the two countries, and why American presidents as diverse as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton have found it impossible to bridge.
The most ambitious of the three is the National Geographic Channel's Iran and the West, airing Monday, June 22, which in just 90 minutes of running time deftly sketches three decades of lethal political schism. Fashioning its story from a truly astonishing series of interviews with everybody from Jimmy Carter to former Iranian president Seyed Mohammad Khatami, Iran and the West tells a tale rife with diplomatic duplicity and dysfunction.
The HBO2 documentary The Queen and I, which airs tonight, is a story of reconciliation -- but not between Iran and the United States. Rather, it's a searingly personal encounter between Iranian exile filmmaker Nahid Persson Sarvestani, who as a teenaged Communist militant helped topple the shah, and the shah's wife, Queen Farah.
Another sort of heartbreak figures in Be Like Others, young Iranian-American director Tanaz Eshaghian's startling film about Tehran transsexuals that airs on HBO2 next Wednesday (June 24). In what seems like a strange glint of liberalism in Iran's stark fundamentalist landscape, sex-change surgery is legal, even though homosexuality is a capital offense. But as Be Like Others follows several patients through the surgery, it's soon obvious that changing genders in Iran is like changing cells in a prison.
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