Documentary: Iranian women fight for rights in stadium

( dpa ) - "We women have only half our rights," chant the all-female crowd in the Tehran stadium hosting the first-ever friendly between the Iranian women's football squad and a foreign team.

The scene towards the end of the film documentary Football Under Cover underscores the desire of Iranian women for self-determination and equality in a male-dominated society, according to its makers.

Co-directed by Tehran-born Ayat Najafi and David Assmann of Germany, Football Under Cover is one of five films from or about Iran currently being shown at the Berlin Film Festival.

"Women's football in Iran represents a battle for freedom," Najafi said in an interview coinciding with the film's world premier. "It is a means of fighting and showing that they won't be tied down."

The film details the obstacles faced by a multi-ethnic team from Berlin before they are able to play in Teheran, while at the same time showing the struggle for acceptance by the Iranian players.

It was not easy for Najafi, either, because the stadium was off- limits to men when the women played their game wearing headscarves, long-sleeved shirts and ankle-length trousers.

"We had so many problems," said the director, who does not expect the film about the 2006 match to be shown in Iran.

"It was clear from the very beginning that we would only get the necessary shooting permission if we did not show this film in Iran. We had to agree to this in order to be able to shoot anything at all there," he said.

Another film unlikely to see the light of day in Iran is Be Like Others, a US-Canadian production about homosexuality in the Islamic Republic that is running in the Berlinale's Froum section for young filmmakers.

Iranian-born Tanaz Eshaghian's Farsi-language documentary follows young people who visit a Teheran hospital to seek a sex-change operation. While homosexuality is punishable by death in Iran, transsexuality was legalized two decades ago.

On a less controversial note, female director Manijeh Hekmat takes a lively and detailed look at Iran from a women's perspective in 3 Women, one of 32 films entered in the Panorama section showcasing independent and arthouse cinema.

Hekmat examines the fabric of family relationships in her drama revolving around carpet weaver Minoo, her freelance photographer daughter and her aging mother who suffers from dementia.

One of the highlights of the festival so far has been Majid Majidi's humanistic comedy-drama, The Song of Sparrows, about a family in present-day Iran.

Veteran actor Reza Naji gives a tour-de-force performance as a generous and loving father who finds work as a motorcycle taxi driver in Tehran after losing his job on an ostrich farmer.

The dog-eat-dog life in the capital seems to make him harder and less compassionate until an accident that leaves him unable to work forces him to reflect and ultimately leads to his redemption.

While religion is ever present in the film, "what you see isn't a message about the religious motives of Iran," Majidi said. "People's beliefs are important, but the question is what do our religious beliefs lead us to do," he said.

The Song of Sparrows is one of 21 from around the globe that are in the running for the festival's top award, the Golden Bear, which will be announced on Saturday.

Battling against the odds is a recurring theme in Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame, a vivid work set in Afghanistan by up-and-coming 19- year-old Iranian director Hana Makhmalbaf.

The movie, which is in the running for the top honour at the Asian Film Awards in Hong Kong in March, features in the Young Generation section of the Berlinale.

It tells the story of a 6-year-old girl who is harassed on her way to school by boys playing war games mirroring the violence they have witnessed.

The boys threaten to stone the girl and blow her up the way the Taliban blew up the giant Buddha statues in 2001 in Bamiyan, where many of the scenes for the film were shot.

Makhmalbaf, who comes from a well-know filmmaking family, started making movies when she was 14. She has received awards for her work at festivals in Venice, San Sebastian, Montreal and Tokyo.

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