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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 ‘it’s very far,’ they say ‘it’s 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 Iran’s 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 master’s 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 Russia’s. 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 couldn’t 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.

“I’ve 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

Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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