Open City Docs Review: Sunless Shadows

Despite all the progress which has been made over the last few decades, we still live in a distinctly patriarchal world. Whilst it’s the case (pretty much) everywhere, in some places it seems like very little progress has been made over the last hundred years. Indeed, certain nations have regressed. These tend to be states where religion is fundamentally part of everyday life and Islamic countries are often particularly bad in terms of their gender or human rights. Iran is one of the worst offenders.

In his new documentary, Sunless Shadows, Mehrdad Oskouei builds on the topics and themes covered in Starless Dreams, his previous work. He takes his camera inside a juvenile detention centre in Tehran, speaking to a group of adolescent girls who have been convicted of murdering a male member of their family. Through individual interviews, speaking to their mothers and group observation he builds up a picture of their lives inside and outside of prison.

Sunless Shadows is a powerful documentary which shines a light on the plight of girls growing up in a traditional society where freedom is only possible through the whims of men. Despite the severity of their crimes, Oskouei’s film is incredibly empathetic. He wants to know the background, what drove them to kill, without casting judgement on their actions. This provides the space for these young women to speak freely and boldly. Sunless Shadows focuses on the oppression and control of females within Iranian society, where freedom is relative.

Sunless Shadows screens at Open City Documentary Festival between 9-12 September.

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