Warring Factions, a new feature documentary by Justin Mashouf, is one of those rare films where the filmmaker puts himself as the subject. In the film, Mashouf is an Iranian-American breakdancer who aims to bridge the cultural divide between America and Iran with his b-boying. In the midst of ever-present tensions between the United States and Iran, Warring Factions comes at exactly the right time.
The film starts in Tuscon, Arizona, where Mashouf is a student, and follows his daily life – a life which includes both Quran classes and regular practices and competitions with his b-boy crew. Mashouf takes a few moments in the film to explore how Americans perceive Iran and America’s war on terror, by interviewing folks at an air show – the results are typical and can be blamed on the influences of Fox News and others. Staunch Republicans defame Iran while young boys wish to grow up to be soldiers. In this age of Obama, these scenes in the film are a good reminder of what the past eight years under the Bush Administration have been like, and how much the Bush doctrine shaped the country’s attitude towards foreign countries. Mashouf doesn’t let us forget.
He then heads over to Iran to visit family and to check out the country’s b-boy scene. Mashouf said in an interview: “I heard about b-boying in Iran from seeing a clip I found on an international breaking website in 2007. I emailed Hossein “Battle” and asked him about the scene in Iran and we planned to meet.”
In the film Mashouf discovers that Iran has hundreds of b-boys, who are highly skilled. This is one of the highlights of the film that again makes the viewer reflect on the current political climate – Americans have been told many times that Iranians hate America, yet here is a film that shows Iranians appreciating American culture, such as b-boying, and are making it into their own underground movement.I asked Mashouf what it was like to be in Iran, coming from America: “I wouldn’t say that I felt out of place in Iran but being an American in Iran is like being a movie star in a small town, everyone wants to know your story. Additionally, when people find out that you practice Islam, they realize there is a lot more to the US than what they thought.”
The cultural exchange goes both ways, with Mashouf taking classes in Varzesh Bastani, a sort of Iranian martial arts sport, that definitely does not look easy to learn. Through observational techniques and interviews with Mashouf’s teachers, Warring Factions also operates well as an educational film on Iranian culture and history.
The viewer can see Mashouf’s understanding and appreciation of his Iranian heritage throughout the film. “When making the film I knew that b-boying and Varzesh Bastani would be two major elements that unite the two halves of my identity.”
After his travels, Varzesh Bastani classes, and numerous battles with Iranian b-boys, Mashouf heads home but receives an unpleasant surprise as soon as he steps off the plane. Homeland Security confiscates all of his footage and Mashouf is questioned for nearly five hours. Without giving too much away, Mashouf’s incident with Homeland Security was a very ironic, sad, and poignant event in his story.
Warring Factions will be screening next at the Noor Film Festival, on May 2nd in Los Angeles. Mashouf has certainly made a very intriguing and thoughtful film that will educate you about either b-boying, Iranian culture and history, Iranian b-boys, Homeland Security, or all simultaneously.
Hena Ashraf is a filmmaker and a fierce advocate for the making and use of independent media. She can be reached at hena @ a2palestinefilmfest.org.