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One Must Wash Eyes vividly depicts Canada’s connection to the heartbreaking tragedy unfolding in Iran

Iran
Sahar (Pegah Ghafoori) learns that there are consequences after she attends a Women, Life, Freedom protest in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery in One Must Wash Eyes.

In media coverage of the Women, Life, Freedom movement, the focus has been on what’s happening in Iran. And for good reason. According to an independent fact-finding mission (FFMI) on Iran, the Islamic Republic was “responsible for egregious human rights violations under international law, including unlawful killings and murder”.

Moreover, the FFMI determined that “arbitrary deprivation of liberty, torture, rape, and enforced disappearances disproportionately affected women, children, and members of ethnic and religious minorities”.

Sadly, this necessary focus on Iran has obscured the pain of Persian international students in Canada. Fortunately, a new movie, One Must Wash Eyes, addresses this critical issue in ways that will build empathy and promote understanding.

The writer and director of One Must Wash EyesSepideh Yadegar (Uprooted), came to Vancouver as an international student from Iran. Her experiences undoubtedly added to the authenticity of her lead character, an international student named Sahar. Played brilliantly by Iranian-born Toronto actor Pegah Ghafoori (From), Sahar is a considerate young woman with a sharp mind.

One day, she attends a Women, Life, Freedom protest outside the Vancouver Art Gallery. It’s one of many demonstrations around the world focusing attention on the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini. Amini was arrested for not wearing her hijab in accordance with government rules, resulting in a fatal beating in police custody in Iran.

Unbeknownst to Sahar, she’s photographed at the Vancouver protest and her face winds up on the front page of a local newspaper. This creates havoc for her in Vancouver and for family members in Iran.

Iran One Must Wash Eyes
Sahar (Pegah Ghafoori) strikes up a friendship with Matt (Sean Depner).

Tumult in Iran creates uncertainty

Cinematographer Negin Khazaee cleverly captures the fleeting nature of Vancouver political demonstrations. Invariably, people gather in the square along West Georgia Street, listen to speeches, and then disperse, sometimes not even speaking to one another.

However, this ephemeral protest has long-lasting repercussions for Sahar.

She is already under tremendous financial strain as she waits for money from back home to cover punishing tuition fees imposed on international students. But tumult in Iran creates great uncertainty.

If Sahar can’t meet the school’s deadline to pay her fees, the Canadian government might cancel her student visa. That, in turn, could lead to deportation. Moreover, Sahar knows that if she’s forced to return to Iran, she might be arrested and tortured.

One Must Wash Eyes Iran
A mother’s love travels around the world in One Must Wash Eyes.

Ghafoori conveys the angst of her character in remarkably nuanced ways. At work, she’s upbeat and responsible, masking her inner pain. But it all breaks down in private. Composer Amine Bouzaher’s wonderfully evocative score reinforces the agony of Sahar’s predicament.

Yet it’s not entirely gloomy. Sahar has suitors as she struggles with some of the same challenges as other post-secondary students in Canada. She takes comfort speaking on the phone in Farsi with her loving mother, played sweetly by Mitra Lohrasb (DC’s Legends of Tomorrow).

There are also moving scenes juxtaposing Sahar’s suffering alongside joyful imagery of the director, Yadegar, dancing in a red dress. These images hold the promise of what’s possible for this brilliant young woman.

One Must Wash Eyes Iran
Writer, director, and editor Sepideh Yadegar (right) appears as a dancer in a red dress alongside Pegah Ghafoori’s character, Sahar.

Lessons for policymakers and the media

Yet the ever-present cloud of the Iranian government crackdown remains over Sahar’s head. The cinematography, lighting, and Yadegar’s editing enhance the mood by showing how alone this international student really is. This is notwithstanding her blossoming friendship with Matt, ably portayed by Sean Depner (Riverdale).

It’s clear that this emotionally fraught film was a labour of love for Yadegar and the cast and crew, many of whom trace their roots back to Iran. Furthermore, One Must Wash Eyes demonstrates that what’s happening in Iran is a Canadian story with real-world implications in Vancouver.

Let’s hope that Yadegar’s film influences policymakers, post-secondary institutions, and the media to give more thought as to how to support international students. To date, Canada has mostly milked them for money even as politicians and media commentators have falsely blamed them for the housing crisis.

One Must Wash Eyes had its world premiere on June 22 at the Oakville Film Festival. The title is a reminder of Iranian security forces’ propensity for shooting pellets, paintball bullets, and tear-gas cannisters directly at demonstrators’ eyes, causing devastating injuries. Consider this dramatic feature film a bull’s-eye back in the face of the hateful regime.

Watch the trailer for One Must Wash Eyes.

The 11th annual Oakville Film Festival runs until June 25. For more information, visit the websiteFollow Pancouver on X (formerly Twitter) @PancouverMedia and on Instagram @PancouverMedia.

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Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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The Society of We Are Canadians Too created Pancouver to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

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The Society of We Are Canadians Too created Pancouver to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.