Reproducing the Real: Reviving the Discourse of Sacred Defense in "Standing in the Dust"

By Amir Khadem
Submitted to Session P4985 (Visual Engagement: Between the Self and the Nation, 2017 Annual Meeting
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
The Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) left a deep wound in the public memories of both nations. On the Iranian side, the official narrative of the war, dubbed as “The Eight Years of Sacred Defense,” constantly imposes itself on the country’s history and memory. The large body of literature, cinema, and other cultural products in the past three decades, funded and supported by state-owned institutions, have effectively shaped the predominant discourse of war memory in the country. However, with the passage of time, this propagandist discourse is gradually losing its grip on the public memorialization of the war. New waves of artistic responses to the war, by the younger generation of artists, who had not been directly exposed to the war itself, are aiming to revive the “Sacred Defense” discourse for their contemporary audience. This essay looks into one example of this revivalist approach, "Standing in the Dust" (Istadeh dar ghobar) by Mohammad Hossein Mahdavian (2015). The film, highly celebrated and vigorously promoted in the country, uses a mockumentary approach to narrate the life of Ahmad Motevaselian, one of the most controversial Iranian military leaders. This essay will particularly examine the visual technics and narrative schemes employed by the filmmaker to ambitiously rethink the genre of Sacred Defense and find its new audience among the post-war generation of Iranians.