An Iranian paradox: Officially, many things are not permitted, yet with Persian ingenuity, almost everything is possible. Wry docu “Head Wind,” by acclaimed helmer Mohammad Rasoulof (“The Twilight,” “Iron Island”), provides a candid insider’s look at how his authoritarian government aims to control the flow of information into the country and how his compatriots, thirsty for knowledge and freedom of expression, slyly attempt to bend the rules. Combining pointed interviews and probing camerawork, this fascinating pic is prime fest fare and a natural for international broadcasters. Ironically, it’s unlikely to be legally screened on home turf.
A sociologist by training, Rasoulof researched this pet project over two years and produced it himself, clearly obtaining the trust of his unidentified interviewees, some of whom discuss and demonstrate clandestine activities that could earn them fines, jail time or worse. Some might even perceive the pic as encouraging rebellion, and thus itself a head wind to the vessel of the state. More than an undercover investigation, it gains unusual currency via its frank commentary from an atypical cross-section of the population.
Because Iranian TV stations offer only government-approved news and entertainment, banned satellite dishes are nearly ubiquitous. Rasoulof visits isolated villages with “boosting antennas,” nomadic tribesmen with generator-powered satellites and upscale urban homes with dishes hidden on the roof.
Queried about their viewing habits, some claim to have “immoral channels” blocked, while others clearly enjoy access to film fare from Hollywood to Bollywood. Many seek world news, noting the importance of seeing how others view Iran. A middle-class teen references strict rules governing behavior and dress of women and youth outside the home, claiming that with all the criticism she’s subject to, she’d rather stay in and watch foreign TV.
Helmer tracks three dish installers as they fill orders and learns how they find their business. He also follows a purveyor of black-market entertainment who maintains lists of his clients’ viewing and proudly makes recommendations based on their tastes.
The DVD man leads him to a studio where contraband from Dubai and Malaysia is dubbed or subtitled. Even the dubbers often modify what they consider “socially unacceptable material,” and amusingly demonstrate how they can add sleeves and raise a neckline on a Western woman’s revealing dress.
The Internet constitutes another important battlefront in the information war. An articulate former journalist from a banned reformist newspaper demonstrates how the government uses filtering to block access to certain sites, but proxies can unblock the filtered ones.
Strong tech package boasts some poetically beautiful camerawork of the countryside from the helmer’s longtime d.p. Reza Jalali. Rasoulof proves his own resourcefulness in countering a filming ban by cleverly editing photos of police destroying satellite dishes into an action montage.