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Iranian Filmmaker's Road Less Traveled

Documentary filmmaker Komeil Soheili spends two months in St. Petersburg, sharing Iranian culture and challenging stereotypes.

Published: August 21, 2013 (Issue # 1774)



  • Komeil Soheili gave seven presentations of 'Untold Stories' in St. Petersburg, focusing on Iran, stereotypes and his experience hitchhiking from Tehran to St. Petersburg. Following are images and texts from his presentation.
    Photo: for SPT

  • 'Before starting my current journey, I travelled in Iran for about six months. Through such a long trip I had a chance to learn more about my own country and its culture.' K.S.
    Photo: Komeil Soheili / For SPT

  • 'One of the "Untold Stories" begins in the lofty mountains in western Iran. This is the story of a Kurdish girl, Somaye, who loves the culture and nature of her birthplace but must leave it for a long time in order to follow her dreams.' K.S.
    Photo: Komeil Soheili / For SPT

  • 'I started in Tehran and hitchhiked all the way to St. Petersburg. This man is one of the drivers who picked me up in Georgia, near the Russian border. He gave me flowers to show his hospitality as we spoke different languages and could not understand each other.' K.S.
    Photo: Komeil Soheili / For SPT

  • 'The idea to tell people about Iran while traveling was an opportunity to meet interesting new people and to make friends in Russia like Yulia, Alexander, Nadezhda and Alisa, who made it possible to shoot a documentary in St. Petersburg.' K.S.
    Photo: Komeil Soheili / For SPT

  • 'I soon realized that Russian-Iranian intercultural relations were something much more than I could find in books. I knew that the first foreign ambassador who had arrived in St. Petersburg was Iranian but later I even found out that there was a Persian cemetery where an Iranian prince had been buried.' K.S.
    Photo: Komeil Soheili / For SPT

  • 'To discover your own country while traveling and being far away from it was a unique experience for me which turned into great memories of Russian hospitality and kindness.' K.S.
    Photo: Komeil Soheili / For SPT

Komeil Soheili was at least somewhat prepared for the journey of hitchhiking from Tehran to St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg, in Persian literature, is kind of a symbol of a very, very long way, Soheili said, speaking to The St. Petersburg Times on Friday. For example, I found in some books that instead of saying its very far, they say its like St. Petersburg.

Through much of history, both Persia and Russia existed in the western eye as exotic and faraway nations about which much was imagined and little was known. Soheili found that even today, knowledge of Irans rich history and culture is opaque to outsiders, due to the political clashes that cut Iran off from the rest of the world. Soheili has come to St. Petersburg in the latest stage of a kind of pilgrimage to present Persia: Untold Stories, a discussion of Iranian culture and people.

A 28-year-old native of Mashhad, the second biggest city in Iran, Soheili has lived in Tehran for much of his life. His journalistic career began at the age of 16, when he handwrote arts stories for newspapers. Since then, he has worked as an arts and cinema journalist and documentary filmmaker with a focus on Iranian society.

Soheili has taken part in making more than 40 movies in Iran, despite the fact that filming can be restricted.

It has its own difficulties, he said. But we made many movies.

Less than a year after graduating from Tehran University with a masters degree in Cultural Studies and Media in 2009, Soheili embarked on a formative six-month trip backpacking and hitchhiking around Iran, a country whose multiplicity of cultures and languages resembles Russias. It was the first extended journey he had taken around his country.

I was really curious to know more about Iran. There are really different regions, different cultures and traditions. It inspired me a lot, he said.

I really surprised myself in some places. I couldnt even talk the language sometimes!

After that trip, Soheili had to complete his compulsory military service, after which he was granted a passport. That began the journey outside of Iran that Soheili is still on.

Ive hitchhiked from Tehran to St. Petersburg, he said. So far.

He has been in Russia for just over two months now. In addition to presenting Persia: Untold Stories, he also shot footage for a documentary with the help of Russian friends, including Alisa Shablovskaya, an Iranian Studies graduate of St. Petersburg University.

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