Political Film Society - Newsletter #141 - August 15, 2002

August 15, 2002


Iran has elections every four years in which all citizens sixteen years of age and above are entitled to vote in a secret ballot for two candidates from a list of several presidential aspirants. The current liberalization trend in Iran is due to careful selection by voters of the most progressive candidate, though laws of the parliament and actions of the executive branch are subject to veto by the council of ayatollahs. However, not everyone in Iran votes. The Iranian film Secret Ballot (Raye makhfi), directed by Babak Payami, is at once an effort to increased public consciousness about the need to vote and an explanation for nonvoting. The film takes place on the isolated desert island of Kish in the Persian Gulf. An airplane drops a box, which contains voting instructions, ballots, and a ballot box. Soon, a motorboat deposits a female election official (played by Nassim Abdi) on the shore; her job is to collect votes from various villages. In other words, instead of a central polling location for the district to which voters must travel, her job is a kind of affirmative action for voters: She brings the ballots and ballot box to the voters, albeit with the reluctant aid of a vehicle driven by a member of the border patrol (played by Cyrus Abidi) stationed where she landed. Since few citizens in the remote area have ever voted before, her first task is to provide some civic education about the way in which elections enable progress. Then, if she persuades potential voters that they can only have their voice heard regarding their problems by casting ballots, they present their identification cards, receive and mark ballots, and deposit their votes in the ballot box. The film, thus, follows the common formula of a road picture; that is, filmviewers see a slice of life in rural Iran while learning about the pervasive lack of political consciousness in the countryside. Many encounters are quite amusing, as innocent remarks from those whom she meets raise profound questions about whether Iran is really a democracy despite the election ritual.

For example, the first voter objects when the border patrol officer appears to interfere in his choice of candidates; he demands to cast a secret ballot and to have the officer stop brandishing his rifle. In another case, a merchant refuses to vote unless the election official first buys something from him. In yet another case, women are fearful of voting without the permission of their husbands, who are out fishing. In a town where the men are at a cemetery, women are banned from the cemetery, so the election official cannot gain admission to the men. Those who do not speak Farsi are unable to read the ballots and thus disfranchised. When she stops at a mine, the equipment is too noisy for the lone worker to hear what she has to say, and the he is just too busy to vote, perhaps implying that Iran should have elections on a national holiday, similar to many other countries. Finally, the border patrol officer drives her back to the place where a boat is supposed to pick her up at 5:30 P.M. At first dumbfounded that a female would be assigned such a job, he gradually grows to like her for her charm and persistence. While waiting, he votes, whereupon she notes that he has voted for her instead of selecting from the list of candidates. His amusing riposte is that he thought that voting was by secret ballot. Then an airplane lands to pick her up so that the votes will arrive in time to be counted. The film, thus, contains an eloquent plea for democracy to work through a more perfect election system. Accordingly, the Political Film Society has nominated Secret Ballot for an award as best film of 2002 promoting democracy. MH

At a meeting in Seal Beach on August 11, the following officers were selected for the Board of Directors for the year 2003: Michael Haas, President, CEO, and Chief Financial Officer; Lu Tuan Nguyen, Vice-President; Joseph Ribal, Secretary. Joseph Ribal served as Temporary Secretary for the meeting.