Head Wind

It consistently amazes me that, despite all the stuff we complain about living here in the United States, that we still have it so much better than most of the other countries on the planet. We're so used to our freedoms that any perceived infringement on them seems like an affront. But imagine if you lived in Iran, where all you're craving is more information than the government-run TV stations are giving you. Satellite dishes, though, are illegal, mainly because of programming that the government thinks is immoral. Many internet sites, especially those that are in opposition to the fundamentalist Muslim government, are blocked. Western music and movies are banned. How would you deal with all the restrictions?

That topic is examined in Head Wind, a fascinating documentary from Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof. In the film, he shows that Iranians are starving for information and entertainment, and in this digital age, the government, as hard as they try to, is having a hard time stopping the tide.

The film mostly focuses on the invasion of TV, especially satellite TV, to the Middle Eastern nation. Even though regular TV is just getting to some of the more remote villages, most of Iran has advanced to the point where they're looking for the choices afforded to them by satellite TV. We see a satellite installer in Tehran who has to do his installations during the dead of night for fear of getting caught by the police. We see another installer make deals to do installations as if he was selling drugs. Another installer brings homemade dishes and equipment out to wandering farmers, who watch TV from their tents. In general, Iranians are looking for more information, to feel like they're part of the world, and it seems like a large number of them use the satellite dishes, despite the risks involved.

This is the most absorbing part of the film; watching these installers seemingly install the roughly-made dishes and get the equipment working almost by gum and bailing wire was riveting to an electronics scavenger like myself. But it was also interesting to see how Iranians, now that they have the information, are dealing with it. It's still a very traditional society, and not everyone is comfortable with the images coming into their homes. They block some channels, and don't allow their kids to see others. Images of people sleeping together, prurient images of women, and other things that even the Parents Television Council wouldn't bother with are still not allowed in Iran. But the people with the dishes deal with it the best they know how, while fundamentalists and those in the government try their best to squash the advancement of information.

When the latter part of the documentary veers off into the restriction of the internet, movies, and music, the film gets slightly less interesting, even though the stories are still intriguing to watch. Especially funny is Omid, a movie lender who has DVDs and tapes of just about every Western movie that's come out in the last few decades. He's kind of like a tiny one-man Netflix, going from house to house suggesting and distributing movies. Of course, all movies are edited for content, and the film shows a dubbing and ediitng house that makes the appropriate changes to the movies via cheap CGI.

If anyone wants to feel better about living here, even in the era of the Patriot Act, they should go see Head Wind. It's not only a good in-depth look at a society Americans don't often see, it'll also show you that the march of information can even take over the most closed of societies.