Written, directed and produced by award-winning filmmaker Antony Thomas (HBO's "Celibacy" and "Middle Sexes: Redefining He and She"), For Neda is the story of Neda Agha-Soltan whose tragic death on June 20, 2009 came to symbolize for many the struggle in Iran. Filming without official approval and at great risk, Iranian journalist Saeed Kamali Dehghan worked secretly inside Iran to locate and film interviews with Neda’s family for the first time, while Thomas interviewed current exiles, including a friend of hers from her university days and Arash Hejazi, the doctor who was at Neda’s side when she was shot and who held her as she died. For Neda also includes videos, photos, private diaries and letters supplied by her family.
Even as a young girl, Neda strove to lead her life in opposition to the regime's restrictive treatment of women. As her mother explains, she rebelled from the start, refusing to wear a chador, the traditional Iranian head covering, when she went to school. Her father Ali proudly says their daughter's defiant nature was innate, calling her "a fearless child." Later in life, Neda worked as a tour guide in Turkey, read "subversive" books and pursued her passion for singing and Arab dancing in the only places she could, in private and behind closed doors.
What emerges is a portrait of a young woman whose ordinary desire for personal freedom and self-expression were confined by living in the Islamic Republic of Iran, but who showed tremendous courage in standing up for those freedoms. When President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blatantly rigged the 2009 election, she marched with her compatriots in the street, even though she knew she was risking her life as the regime began a violent crackdown.
For Neda interweaves the story of Neda Agha-Soltan's life and death with a look at the larger Iranian struggle, especially for women, that led her to march in the Tehran streets on June 20. Azar Nafisi (author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran" and "Things I've Been Silent About") notes that women were the first and most severely treated targets of the reactionary laws imposed after the Iranian Revolution. Women were required to be covered in public, while the Basij, men and women charged with maintaining public order and decency, patrolled the streets harassing those they considered to be in violation.
In addition to those who knew Neda, others interviewed include: Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari; Iranian photographer Reza Deghati; human rights lawyer Andreas Moser; computer expert Austin Heap; Victoria Grand, head of communications and policy for YouTube; Iranian human rights activists Roya and Ladan Boroumand; U.S. State Department official Jared Cohen; and professor Ali Ansari, who headed the inquiry by the UK-based think tank Chatham House into the 2009 elections.
When authorities in Iran scrambled to stop the flow of information in the days after the election, 24-year old American computer expert Austin Heap found a way around the restrictions, creating proxy servers and hiding encrypted data inside official Iranian government internet traffic. Soon, news agencies were relying on him to get information out of the country.
The Iranian government initially denied Neda's death and then fabricated stories about who was responsible. No one was ever charged with the killing. Her father says, "If the murderer was not from this government, you would have found him." Neda was buried the next day in accordance with Muslim custom, but authorities would not permit a religious ceremony. While the dead are honored after 40 days in Muslim tradition, Neda's family was forbidden to do so publicly. Still, thousands went to her grave that day to pay their respects, as seen in poignant, previously unseen images from personal cameras, including cell phones.
Concludes human rights advocate Rudi Bakhtiar, "Neda didn't die in vain...Not her, not every other life that's been lost. They will change Iran...It's a long battle ahead, but it is the beginning of the end."
For Neda director Antony Thomas' previous HBO credits include: "Middle Sexes: Redefining He and She," "Celibacy," "A Question of Miracles," "Body Doubles: The Twin Experience," "To Love or Kill: Man vs. Animal," "By Satan Possessed: The Search for the Devil" and "Never Say Die: The Pursuit of Eternal Youth.
For Neda was written, produced and directed by Antony Thomas; narrated by Shohreh Aghdashloo; editor, McDonald Brown; head of production, Annie Dinner; co-producers, Saeed Kamali Dehghan and Carleen Ling-An Hsu; production manager, Barbara Browne; director of photography, Jonathan Partridge. For Mentorn: executive producer, Neil Grant. For HBO: senior producer, Nancy Abraham; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.