"...she was like any girl anywhere. She wanted the freedom to fall in love when she wanted, to wear the clothes she wanted. But there was one difference: those things were so important to her that she was prepared to risk her life."
How is it that so few are in control of so many people?
Well, your main power structure there is the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who have enormous economic power. This is a country of enormous resources, and rich in oil. It should be one of the most prosperous countries on the planet. But you have the central structure of the Revolutionary Guard who control many industries; it is a very corrupt, committed group who have a lot to hang on to, and an awful lot to lose if things go wrong.
Neda's death was unique in the sense that it was such a public death.
Yes. It was actually filmed by at least two cell phones. And there's an interesting reason for that, which is that some people in the crowd believed that Neda's music teacher, who was with her at the time of her death, was a famous film star from the 70s. So there were people hovering around him and Neda with their cameras. And for that reason, we have the most astonishing images of a young person's dying moments. And it is that death and the way it was captured that really brought the world's attention to what was going on in Iran. Suddenly people looked in a different way, in a more understanding way.
These demonstrations were not the first of their kind. There has been demonstration after demonstration in Iran during the lifetime of this so-called Islamic Republic. And those demonstrations have meant that there have been many deaths as a consequence. But now we're on the edge of a real revolution in communication, where people living in oppressive societies, with cell phones and digital cameras, can not only capture evidence, but can get it out to the world on the internet. That has changed everything.
One of the people you interviewed for the film said that, because of Neda's death, things will never be the same in Iran. What do you think she meant by that?
Well, nothing can be the same because this event not only reverberated outside Iran, but within Iran. The government has tried to distort the story of Neda by saying she never existed, then she was living in Greece, then she was shot by the CIA, then she was shot by somebody from the BBC; all these incredible stories. The ruling regime is very scared of, as I call it, the 'Neda Effect' - the actual waking people up to an understanding of what's going on in Iran. And that effect is felt internally as well as externally. Now, whether this regime will crumble, I can't tell. I come originally from South Africa, and I didn't believe Apartheid would ever end in my lifetime. Bang, it did. So, no one knows if this regime will crumble. But certainly things have changed.
What did Neda come to mean to you, having made a film about her?
Well, what one understood really quickly was, she was like any girl anywhere. She wanted the freedom to fall in love when she wanted, to wear the clothes she wanted. But there was one difference: those things were so important to her that she was prepared to risk her life. Life wasn't worth living, in her view, without those simple freedoms. She didn't want to be covered and hidden. She didn't want to be restricted. She wanted to live a life that was free. She wasn't a Joan of Arc, but to me she was a particularly special heroine because she was so recognizable to me.
We tend to divide the world into nations with boundaries. But through communication we're beginning to realize that we're all part of a common humanity, that an Iranian isn't a different species to you or me. We share the same feelings; we share the same disappointments, frustrations. And if this film achieves anything, I want to drive that message through: how close you feel to these people. They're not alien at all. They are people, just like you and I.