NEW YORK (Reuters) - Youthful Neda Agha-Soltan became a symbol of the violence of the 2009 Iran protests when shocking footage of her dying moments reached millions on the Internet after the contested presidential election last year.
A new documentary, “For Neda,” delves into the life and death of Neda showing first-time interviews with her family recorded inside Tehran. It airs this week on U.S. television channel HBO, one year after her death. The filmmakers hope it will play in France, Britain and other nations in the weeks and months to come.
“Her death, captured in that very graphic way, had enormous effect on people. She became, and quite rightly, the symbol of this movement,” said the film’s British director Antony Thomas. “She wasn’t somebody who wanted political power or anything like that. She just wanted the freedom to be.”
Neda, a 26 year-old music student, was shot on June 20 last year as protesters disputed the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and clashed with government forces in Tehran.
A viral video of her death made its way to the Internet and reached millions of people who saw her eyes wide and surprised as blood poured from her mouth. It stirred protesters inside and outside of Iran, who claim she was an innocent victim.
Iranian authorities have said Neda was not shot by the type of bullet used by Iranian security forces, suggesting the incident was staged to blacken the image of the clerical establishment and stir political opposition.
But the movie debunks those claims and aims to portray Neda as a courageous young protester through interviews with her family and bystanders near Neda when she was shot.
“For Neda” also disputes other claims from Iranian authorities, including the Iranian ambassador to Mexico who told CNN Neda was likely shot by militant groups or possibly the CIA.
A spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not return calls seeking comment on the film.
Narrated by Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, the film takes audiences inside Neda’s home to meet her mother, sister, father and brother after London-based Iranian journalist Saeed Kamali Dehghan snuck a camera into Tehran to interview them.
Her family portrays Neda as a rebel from when she was young, refusing to wear a head scarf at school and leaving Iran to work as a tour guide in Turkey. She also had studied Islamic philosophy at university.
“She used to say that women in this country cannot live like human beings. She used to say, ‘As a woman, I cannot even go outside without being covered up’,” her brother Mohammed Agha-Soltan said in the film.
It also shows Neda as a regular young girl who went to the gym, loved dancing and after divorcing her husband, dreamed of a future relationship.
“She didn’t belong to any political movement. She was a very normal girl with very normal tastes,” said Thomas. “She had an eye for the trendiest, coolest fashions but unlike the millions and millions of girls you could say that about, she was someone who had incredible courage and strength.”
Her mother, Hajar Rostami, said in the film her daughter did not vote in the election after she was dismayed at a lack of opposition representatives at polling booths she visited.
With tears, she recalled thinking her daughter was on her way home when she was shot. She had begged her to not attend the protests in the first place.
But Neda refused, according to her mother in the film, replying, “If I don’t go out, who will?”
Editing by Jill Serjeant