Karun: Iran’s Longest River – Travel Documentary

words Paul Risker

The Western perspective of the Middle East and in particular Iran is muddied by the paranoia of ‘the other’. Therefore, this travel documentary following two men journeying along the length of the Karun River to explore Iran and its culture is a timely one.

Watching new travel documentary, Karun: Misadventures On Iran’s Longest River, begin to unfold forces the thought that against the world’s landscape there are a multitude of stories unfolding. The world might be a the great and vast stage whose stories swallows up this one small adventure of endurance. Yet within the context of this film and the lives of these individuals, the Karun River journey is a significant event.

The introduction of such a thought at the opening, is testament to the success of film as a reflection and window through which we can gaze upon other cultures. When considering the image of Iran what may come to mind is the sand and the burning sun, yet early on the two men are seen traipsing through snow. An immediate touch of contradiction present in all the best travel series.

One of the contradictions that resonates with the greatest weight is the interaction between infrastructures of authority and the lower human levels. The Karun River film casts a light on the suspicious nature of authority versus the warmth of hospitality at this human level. Whilst at its heart this is a film centred on an Iranian adventure, in moments it spirals out to offer a reflection of culture more broadly; specifically of the contradictory relationship between authority and subject.

Technology within the context of our connection to the world has equally come to be comprised of contradictions. While it has broken down boundaries and shrunk the world, air travel in particular creates a specific disconnect. Karun serves as a reminder that while flight takes us over our world and creates a disconnect with our landscape, the journey that these two men undertook through Iran on the ground by river, road and bike was an intimate exploration of a country and its culture that allowed them to see the contours of the landscape. More importantly it afforded them the opportunity to see the changing landscape of this complex country alongside its intricate identity and sense of presence.

An art form born out of technological evolution, cinema has the capacity to offer a window through which to view other cultures. Offsetting the depiction that emerges through mainstream media allows both an alternative expression and perception of a culture. The incorporation of an individual journey into a documentary film fulfils not only this purpose, but also the observation of the intimacy of experiencing the world’s landscape. This film achieves an effective coupling of these two ideas.

Karun raises an interesting question or at least prompts consideration of the purpose and the meaning of a film. Cinema and more broadly art has always found itself in a state of flux, pulled between artistic integrity and the imperatives of art as a commercial product. The entertainment value of a film affords a commercial viability. But for a travel documentary film such as Karun, which is beyond entertainment, this is not so clear. So what is the point of this here fifty-five minute documentary? In one sense it is the edited memory into a permanent form of those who undertook this journey. This alone can never be expected to hold much in the way of commercial viability or appeal. Yet it is its nature as a film that allows the transference of an experience through which another culture can be experienced by an audience that defines it as a film with merit and a degree of importance. It forces a contemplation of cinema as a living and breathing entity in and of itself and how there are layers that create the purpose of cinema. Karun: Misadventures On Iran’s Longest River fulfils an important purpose of cinema that contributes to our perception and understanding of its identity, purpose and meaning.

Iranian travel documentary, Karun: Misadventures On Iran’s Longest River can be seen and downloaded digitally via www.karunfilm.com

words Paul Risker

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