Stimulated by the suicide of a young Iranian refugee in Canada, Masoud Raouf, a former political prisoner himself, set out to make The Tree that Remembers. It consists mostly of stories told by other political refugees in Canada of their suffering in the jails of Islamic Republic after the 1979 revolution.
I saw the movie two and a half years ago at VIFF 2002. I had a short note on it then, in my now defunct weblog. Yesterday, I saw it again on the Documentary Channel and thought it important enough to write a less shorter note.
The movie is a collection of personal narratives. The participants relate, some in broken English, what they have gone through. As such it lacks historical and political perspective. On its own, it may seem dry and pointless. That is a pity, but I don't think this is a weakness given the constraints of a short documentary and the personal angle of the movie. In particular, if it is put in the right background, say, in a special-focus festival or festival section, it can serve as a poignant reminder of the lost chances of a young and restless generation of Iranians.
The film has been extensively awarded. The visual imagery, however, is not the best one can expect. In one sense it is quite successful: closed-angles, close-ups and restricted spacial environments combine together to make the visual equivalent of the impression given by the spoken stories. Raouf puts in his paintings in an attempt to convey some of the emotional charge of the subject matter and certain prison sets are visualized in a minimalist fashion in studio. Other than that, though, one is essentially offered only people telling personal stories and every once in a while shown a piece of newspaper or a still photograph or a short news clip of the revolution era. If Raouf could overcome this shortcoming, his documentary would make a significant contribution to giving a voice to the Iranian refugees. In its current format, it is probably better suited for the written media, perhaps an illustrated book.
Despite its shortcomings, I do recommend watching The Tree that Remembers to Iranians and non-Iranians alike; the latter may ask for the input of the former to fill in the gaps mentioned above.
The film's ending credits are accompanied by a nostalgic—to me at least—bitter-sweet song, Autumn is Coming, sung by Shirin, one of the characters. It is a well-tuned coda to Shirin's and her prison-mates' grim past.