Iran pubcaster tackles Holocaust

State TV airing big-budget series

LONDON — Iranian state TV is airing a big-budget, self-produced skein that follows the unlikely friendship between a young Iranian and a Jewish woman in Europe during World War II. “A Zero Degree Turn” airs weekly in a primetime slot on Iran’s Channel 1.

The 22-part series is helmed by Hassan Fathi, who made last year’s domestic box office hit “Marriage Iranian Style.”

While it is impossible to get ratings, clearly the show has government support, airing on flagship pubcaster, Channel 1, in primetime.

Skein is notable for its big budget, reputedly running into low seven-figures and lensing in Tehran, Budapest and Paris, as well as its highly sensitive subject matter.

While the skein has not directly addressed the issue of the Holocaust yet — the series, which bowed in mid-April has just reached the point of the Nazi invasion of Gaul in 1940 — “Zero Degree” has made a concerted effort to show that Iran’s own Jewish population was treated well by its hosts.

“According to historical documents through the period of the birth of fascism in Europe and the Nazi policy of destroying lives of Jewish people, Iranian people have played an important role in saving the lives of hundreds of Jews from this Nazi hell,” Fathi says. “This issue is one of the most important and basic subjects of this series and indicates that Iranians, typically, believe in the right of racial equality for all people. This comes out of their religious and national beliefs.”

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad sparked worldwide outrage when he labeled the Holocaust as a “myth.”

While he later claimed his comments had been misunderstood, the fact that Iran hosted a December conference questioning whether the Holocaust really happened, coupled with Ahmedinejad’s numerous calls for Israel’s destruction — most recently on June 3 — have left no doubts about the hardliner’s views.

Amir Levy, of Israel-based media monitoring company Satlink Communications, says “Zero Degree” has many interesting points.

“It shows Iranians as having neighborly relations with their Jewish population,” he says. “It also says there was a conspiracy between the Nazis and some Jewish groups to emigrate to Palestine from Europe. This seems to be the main message that the Jews have nothing to do with Palestine. The show isn’t anti-Jewish, but it is anti-Zionist.”

Skein’s political undertones chime with the Iranian government’s official position that anti-Semitism and the Holocaust were the fault of Europeans, and there’s no justification for the subsequent partition of British-mandate Palestine to enable the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

Despite its hot-potato subject matter, “Zero Degree” has so far drawn more attention in Iran for its lavish production values than its political content.

Parts of the skein take place in pre-revolution Iran of the 1940s, and local auds have enjoyed the uncommon sight on state-controlled TV of Iranian women in Western dress, as opposed to body-covering chador.

“It’s really well done and quite impressive,” says one Iranian sales agent.

Fathi is hoping to sell the skein, which features an international cast of actors including Iranian heartthrob Shihab Hassini, to territories beyond Iran. Non-Iranian cast members were dubbed in Farsi for the local broadcast.

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