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True/False Conversations: Sierra Urich connects nature and family in 'Joonam'

In her film 'Joonam', filmmaker Sierra Urich connected with her Iranian mother and grandmother, across barriers of language, generations, and history, in the family’s Vermont garden.

In her film Joonam Sierra Urich filmed much of her story in the family’s garden in Vermont, where three generations of women gather, breaking through barriers of time, language and culture.

As part of KBIA’s True/False Conversations series, Janet Saidi talked with Sierra Urich about how she lifts a veil on the filmmaking to show the process of connecting with her Iranian mother and grandmother. Here’s an excerpt from the conversation with True/False filmmaker Sierra Urich.

Sierra Urich: It wasn't my intent to really make a film about making a film, when I started. But so much about trying to get close to my family was wrapped up in just the filmmaking process itself. And so a lot of, you know, the … relatable trials and tribulations and antics that someone has with family when they're trying to kind of, you know, herd cats really came through in the scenes that we're, yeah, lifting that veil, seeing me struggle with a microphone or struggling to keep my mom in the shot or my grandmother fiddling with the equipment. And so that was really important - just to get our family dynamics across and that through line of how difficult it is to spend time with family sometimes.

But then also, there's this other layer that it's about trying to get close, and trying to break down some of those barriers between each other and between each other and Iran. That felt like a really beautiful metaphor for letting the censorship guard down and letting things be, you know? How do I how do I look on screen?! And, you know, allowing one's daughter or one's family to have unfiltered, unmediated connection to their heritage.

Janet Saidi: It's fantastic. It's - like all great stories, there's so much that's specific in it - about you, and your mother and grandmother and all of your connections - but also so much that's universal. And there's so many really quiet, beautiful images from the very beginning of just the changing seasons. And for me [the images] kind of culminate in this archival footage you have of your grandmother and grandfather in Iran when they're young. You know what's ahead of them. It's time travel in the most wonderful way of narrative stories … 

Sierra Urich: I definitely came to the film wanting nature and the land and the seasons to be a big part of the storytelling.

Growing up in Vermont, it's a very rural state. It's a place where people really appreciate nature and the land. I think it's just a part of my natural visual language, but also something that was important for me to get across in terms of just who I am and what I'm coming from.

And so through the editing process, it really became clear that this garden was such a character, you know: All these events take place in the garden. We're coming together in the summer. This idea of connection to land was such a big part of the story, both here and the lack of connection to the land in Iran.

And my cousin sent me that footage [of Urich’s grandmother and grandfather in Iran], and it just sort of like blew the whole thing open. And suddenly you're seeing this beautiful farmland that they had cultivated in Iran and how gorgeous Iran is and how much joy they had being there.

And suddenly feeling that connection between their farm and my mother's garden and the land of Vermont and the land of Iran and the longing and the beauty and how much that they lost by leaving this place that they love so much. So it just felt like the merger of all these things - of their love story, of the land, of the garden.

See more True/False Conversations here and at Voxmagazine.com

Janet Saidi is a producer and professor at KBIA and the Missouri School of Journalism.
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