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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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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Wednesday, Sept. 3


Although thesand sculptures at the Peter and Paul Fortress are more centrally located and therefore more visible to the throngs of tourists, the 300th Anniversary Park of St. Petersburgs own collection closes today so fans of the classic beach activity should get there while they can.



Thursday, Sept. 4


Vladimir I. Danchenkov, Head of Baltic Customs, will be in attendance during AmChams Customs and Transportation Committee Meeting convening this afternoon at the organizations office near St. Isaacs Square at 3 p.m.



Friday, Sept. 5


Scrabble lovers and chess masters get their chance to assert their intellectual dominance at the return of the British Book Centers Board Game Evenings tonight. Held weekly on Friday nights, the event gives both board game lovers and those hoping to improve their English the chance to meet, greet and compete. Check out the centers VK page for more details.



Saturday, Sept. 6


Athletes will relish the chance to get the latest gear and try out something new at I Choose Sport, an annual event at Lenexpo forum that plans to welcome more than 30,000 people this week to the international exhibition center. Not only will visitors get to try their hand at various athletic endeavors but they will also be able to peruse equipment that can fulfill their dreams of becoming a champion.


Local KHL team SKA St. Petersburg open their season this evening at home against Lokomotiv Yarovslavl at the Ice Palace arena next to the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. See their website for a full schedule and available tickets.



Sunday, Sept. 7


Check out retro and antique cars at Fort Konstantin on Kronstadt Island in the Gulf of Finland at FORTuna, a yearly car festival that highlights the eccentricities of the Soviet automobile industry. A car race, contests and a stunt show will give visitors a chance to rev their engines.



Monday, Sept. 8


This evening marks the opening of the two-week ballet festival High Season at the Mikhailovsky Theater. Check the theaters website for more details about performances and featured dancers.



Tuesday, Sept. 9


Discuss the latest news and issues at the AmCham Hazardous Waste Management Roundtable this morning in the Tango Conference Hall of the Sokos Hotel Palace Bridge on Birzhevoy Pereulok. Starting at 9 a.m., planned topics include the Krasny Bor landfill and waste transportation between Russia and Finland.


Learn more about the citys modern architectural trends at the SPIBA Real Estate and Construction Committees meeting on the topic Contemporary Petersburg Style: What is It? Participants will get the chance to discuss whats in-demand with RBI Holdings Irina Petrova and Lubava Pryanikova, and the current state of the local real estate market. Please confirm your attendance by Sept. 5 through SPIBAs website if you wish to attend.



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