‘First movie ever to address underground Christian movement in Iran’

‘First movie ever to address underground Christian movement in Iran’

A new film is the “first ever to address the underground Christian movement inside of Iran”, its director says.

Cyrus Nowrasteh told Article18 that ‘Infidel’, which will be released first in the US on 18 September, is “inspired by true events in its truest sense, because in many ways it is right out of today’s headlines”. 

Mr Nowrasteh said that, being himself a Christian convert of Iranian descent, he was inspired by the house-church movement in Iran, which he called “a response to the oppression of the Islamic Republic”.

He described ‘Infidel’ as a “Middle East thriller, born of the idea that there are a number of Americans still being held as hostages in Iran, and the Iranian government uses them as pawns in policy negotiations”. 

Mr Nowrasteh recalled the hostage crisis of 40 years ago, when 52 Americans were held for 444 days and the story was front-page news, compared with today when news about hostages tends to garner less attention.

“I realised that whether it’s five, seven, nine – whatever number it happens to be – in recent years there’s zero coverage, zero awareness,” he said. “And I thought, that [coverage] is obviously very important for [the hostages].”

He said he was particularly interested to see that some hostages had been charged with crimes related to their faith. 

“A number of them have been accused of various crimes. A lot of them have to do with spying, etc., usually trumped-up crimes. But some of it has to do with their faith, their Christianity: are they proselytising?” he said.

“And I’m aware that there’s a kind of underground Christian movement in Iran, led by women, and I think it’s a response to the oppression of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the ayatollahs, and I think there are rumblings in Iran. 

“And I also found this to be an interesting phenomenon – a lot of these people who’ve been taken and arrested have been accused of proselytising or distributing Bibles.

“So, being a Christian convert myself – and my family were really never practising Muslims, but I was always taught a certain amount of healthy respect for any religion, although we were really pretty secular growing up. But then I’ve grown up in the States, I’ve married an Ohio girl, and so gradually over the course of my journey, I became Christian. And I just thought that this is an interesting story and situation.”

Mr Nowrasteh called his own conversion a “slow, incremental journey”, influenced in part by his son’s experiences.

“Our youngest son had been through some troubled years, and I think it was him finding faith in Christianity that changed his life, and we were witness to that,” he said. “And that affected us, my wife and I.”

‘Infidel’ centres on the story of an American hostage, played by Jim Caviezel – best known for playing Jesus in ‘The Passion of the Christ’ – and his wife’s attempts to secure his release.

It is during these attempts, Mr Nowrasteh explained, that the wife, played by Claudia Karvan, encounters Iran’s secret Christians.

“It’s a kind of dilemma that a number of families have found themselves in, with wives, sons, daughters trying to get the Iranian government to release their loved ones,” he said. “And that’s the heart of the journey in it, and she connects up with a group of Christians who have a kind of a house-church, who try to help her.”

Mr Nowrasteh said the house-church movement is portrayed as “an honest, shall we say ‘authentic’ movement inside of Iran that has been spawned as a result of all kinds of repression inside the country”.

“I think we try to portray it as a group of people who are trying to help an American woman, who’s there seeking to plead for her husband’s life, to get him out of prison in Iran,” he said.

Mr Nowrasteh was born in the States to Iranian parents and spent some of his early years in Iran, but he hasn’t been back since before the Revolution and laments that his Persian is “now unfortunately that of a five-year-old!”

“The ayatollahs don’t like my movies,” he added. “They’ve made that pretty clear to me. They’re film critics, you know! So I haven’t been back since then.”

The director said he hopes his film turns the world’s attention again to the challenges faced by everyday Iranians.

“A lot has been going on Iran,” he said. “There’s been a lot of demonstrations, there’s been a lot of resistance, and I think that resistance will continue. 

“Last November, something like 1,500 Iranians were killed in the streets of Iran, demonstrating. And I just feel like sometimes we forget what’s going on. And for me, because of being of Iranian descent, I follow it.

“And I think this story was worth addressing at this time, and I think people will find it very compelling. I hope so.”

Quoting the contents of this article in part is permitted. However, no part of it may be used for any fundraising appeal, or for any publication where donations are requested.