Rear Left

The Cat and the Coup

Posted in Dog Food, Gaming the System by rearleft on October 26, 2010

The very idea of a “documentary game” may be hard for many to come to terms with. By their respective definitions, documentaries claim to portray the truth or reality of a situation, and a game is a cultural form that is defined by the variability of its outcome.

The winner of this year’s Indiecade Award in the Documentary category, The Cat and the Coup, leads the player backwards through time in an exposition of the life of Mohammed Mossadegh. Mossadegh, a largely unknown historical figure in the West, was the Iranian Prime Minister who was deposed by a CIA coup following his nationalisation of that nations oil industry, which had previously been run by the monopoly Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which later became British Petroleum, most recently rebranded as BP.

Still looking for a platform for release, promotional videos for the game give a sense of its aesthetics and mechanics. Persian miniatures provide an ingenious reference point for a two dimensional representation of a meaning-rich, hypermediated mise-en-scene that incorporates both images and text, augmented in the game by interactivity. The Cat and the Coup‘s narrative moves backwards through time, with user experience personalised through the character of Mossadegh, but placed at a distance by focalising user interaction through the character of a house-cat. The curious player, embodied as cat-avatar, leads the deposed Prime Minister from his death-bed back through memories of events to the point of his election. In this procedural metaphor for the process of engaging with the subjective experience of engaging with concrete historical events, designers Peter Brinson and Kurosh ValaNejad create a give an audience that is often presented with dehistoricised version of the US and UK’s relationship with Iran a way into a narrative in a manner that is simultaneously playful and rooted in political history.

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Shards, part II

Posted in Media & Movements by rearleft on June 26, 2009

An Iranian friend has made it out of Iran with her body, spirits, and media intact. She left after a day of attempting to shoot in the face of escalating violence from police and militias, the same day that Neda Agha-Soltan was killed.

(excerpt from Dispatch #15)

…That night, we decided that it was time for me to leave.
I began preparing myself mentally and emotionally, and continued working on the encryption of my computer and hard drives.  I decided that in any case, I would leave with these items.  There is too much work for me to do now, what would be the point of being here, “safe” without all of that?

On Sunday, we got word that two more filmmakers that we know had been arrested, and that the secret service had told our documentary association that they would arrest each and every person who signed our petition, and would make them retract their signature- by any means they feel necessary- while filming them.  This is what they did to leftists at the beginning of the revolution.

On Sunday night, I left to the airport, prepared for anything.  Apparently, if you are on the list to be arrested, they take your passport away, and ask you to report the next day to intelligence servjices.  Having an American passport, I would maybe have the option of leaving regardless of a passport confiscation, left with the fact that there would be no return to Iran… I decided that this would be okay and that if I was stopped, I would leave the country anyhow.  My friend took me to the airport at 4 am, and I made it through with no problems.  I was lucky.  There is no telling what would happen if I stayed longer.

Upon arrival to the U.S., I was welcomed in the most aggressive way that I ever have been upon return from traveling- another version of authority.  Strangely, I was neither afraid nor worried about the repercussions of my answers.  (Maybe I secretly hope to be deported from this awful country too).  The immigration officer questioned me at the booth, and I would like to recount our dialogue here, to the best of my memory…

Officer: Do you go to Iran often?
B: As much as I can, but I had not been able to go for a year before now.
O: How long were you there?
B: One month.
O: What is your occupation?
B: I’m a filmmaker.
O: What company do you work for?
B: I’m independent.
O: Why do you go to Iran?
B: Because it is my birth country.  I have my family and friends there.  Should I not go?
O: Well, you know that it is a “country of interest”.
B: It interests me as well.  It’s my country.

He took the stamp and placed it on my passport a few times, hesitating, and finally not giving me the stamps.  He put it back to the side and then asked:

O: Have you ever been to places like Afghanistan or Pakistan?
B: No, I’m not Afghani, and I’m not from Pakistan.

After looking at me in a condescending and suspicious way.

O: What do you think of the U.S.?
B: Is that a valid question?
O: Yes, it is a valid question.  You know, normally we take you to a little room for this.
B: Yes, I know, I’ve already been there a few times.
O: Answer my question.
B: Should I put my bag down?
O: If you like.

I put my bags down on the floor.

B: I am a citizen of this country and have lived here since I was two years old, but I don’t agree with the foreign policy; I don’t know if Obama will make a difference, but I think the wars should stop.  I also don’t agree with policy in Iran either, but I will continue going there. Have you seen what is happening there right now?
O: Yes, I know what is going on.
B: Well it breaks my heart to see people treated the way they are and killed for no reason.

And that’s when my eyes filled with tears, out of sorrow for having left my friends there, but also out of rage for this asshole sitting in the booth with his stamp.  When he saw my tears he dropped his head and immediately stamped my passport, which made me even more furious.  He handed it back to me and I couldn’t keep quiet.

B: So all you wanted was for me to cry, so that you could feel that you can trust me?  You know, they question people in the same way in Iran.  This is why I have a problem with government.  You are all the same.

“Welcome to the U.S.A.”