Screened as part of NZIFF 2001
Tearful reunions and sisterly camaraderie engage our sympathies in Kim Longinotto and Ziba Mir-Hosseini's revealing account of an Iranian refugee centre inhabited by an ad hoc sorority of teenage runaways. Very much a follow-up to their Divorce Iranian Style, which screened at the 1999 Festival, Runaway presents us with on-the-fly portraits of the courage and resourcefulness of rebellious Iranian women, certainly a recurring theme in this year's Festival.
Longinotto's camera gets close to five girls who've come to the refugee centre. Some have escaped terrible circumstances while others simply long for a respect and freedom denied to them by domineering patriarchs. The garrulous Elnaz describes the centre as heaven ("It's much better than home, no beating, no cursing."), while mischievous 12-year-old Maryam ran away from home because her brother beat her with a cable. Outcast and abandoned, 19-year-old Setareh gains solace from offering big-sisterly comfort to younger girls. She consoles one girl nervously about to confront the father and fiancé she had earlier accused of abuse and another who misses her mother after escaping from her drug addicted father.
The centre is in a constant state of flux, overseen by the dynamic and charismatic Mrs Shirazi who protects the girls from their families and helps them find a way back into the world. Throughout the filming new girls are dropped off by the police while others are tentatively reunited with parents, ranging from genuinely caring to patently indifferent. The never-ending cycle of abuse may be dauntingly familiar, but not for the only time in this year's Festival, we're seeing Iranian women learning to challenge the rules in a society that is obviously changing. — MM