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Published Aug 24, 2007 - Burbank News leader

A living legacy

Story of Iranian evangelical Christian religious leader is told through documentary made by his sons.

Joseph, left and Andre Hovsepian, directors and brothers have produced a documentary on their father Haik Hovsepian, a religious leader in Iran, who was killed because of his religious beliefs.

Thirteen years after their father’s martyrdom, Burbank residents Joseph and Andre Hovsepian have completed a film that they believe will shed light on his death and open people’s eyes to religious persecution in Iran.

“A Cry from Iran” is a 55-minute documentary based on the circumstances leading up to Haik Hovsepian’s death.

Haik Hovsepian led evangelical Christians in Iran and headed more than 12 churches in the northern, radically Muslim part of the country, said Joseph Hovsepian, co-director and producer of the documentary.

Because of his advocacy of religious freedom, there were sporadic instances of broken church windows and threatening letters, Joseph Hovsepian said, but his experience and character eventually enabled him to rise to prominence in the Protestant church in Iran.

“During those years there were constant clashes with the government,” he said.

When the regime would pressure him, he stood his ground, Joseph Hovsepian said.

In 1994, their father started campaigning to overturn the execution order of a “zealous” Iranian Christian convert, Mehdi Dibaj, Joseph Hovsepian said. He began approaching the United Nations and other organizations to bring the matter of Dibaj’s impending execution to the world’s attention.

Faced with growing international pressure, Iran was eventually forced to release Dibaj, but three days later, Haik Hovsepian disappeared.

The family eventually learned that he had been murdered, stabbed in the chest 26 times.

“It wasn’t just an issue in Iran,” said Kanakara Navasartian, communications director for the production and a Glendale resident. “Internationally, it was a huge issue.”

The idea for the film was hatched roughly a year after their father’s death, which numerous religious organizations around the world, including the Assemblies of God Church, declared a martyrdom, Navasartian said.

Material was collected throughout the years, but production began in earnest in early 2005, Joseph Hovsepian said.

“It probably started with me a year after my dad’s martyrdom, but [I didn’t have] the confidence in the aspect of film-making, and also emotionally we were so drained, but I knew one day it was going to happen,” he said.

The brothers felt their father’s story needed to be brought to people’s attention.

“It was unique, especially from the perspective that it was an Armenian man who gave his life for a Persian man,” Andre Hovsepian said.

During production, the team tallied more than 200 hours of archive footage, conducted more than 40 interviews and traveled to five countries.

“Our goal was to tell our story with as much information as we have and let the audience basically judge for themselves,” Joseph Hovsepian said.

They hope the documentary will raise awareness of religious intolerance, particularly toward Christian leaders who are kidnapped and martyred, and human rights violations throughout the world.

“It’s shocking that this is still happening in the world we live in today,” Navasartian said. “We have a lot of things that we take for granted. It’s emotional to see a movie like this, but it’s eye-opening.”

And even though the documentary specifically follows the efforts of their father, the brothers believe the story has a larger scope that transcends any specific religion, location or regime.

“This is the story of not only my father, but also of the victims who have been killed and continue to be tortured for their choice of religion,” Joseph Hovsepian said.

His brother believes learning about such occurrences can lend a different perspective to Americans’ lives.

“There is so much freedom here, sometimes we don’t even think about these Third World countries, and we need to know the story,” Andre Hovsepian said.

“It is beneficial to our lives. Once we know what these people go through, you appreciate life more.”

The Hovsepians’ other brother, Gilbert, worked on the music for the documentary. The family’s built-in support system helped them tackle the film’s painful content, Joseph Hovsepian said.

“From the emotional aspect, it helped that we were brothers,” he said.

“We experienced the same emotional ups and downs during the making of this movie. We had the same, basically, vision, and we saw it the same way.”

The film has already won the Best Documentary Feature at the Faith and Film Motion Picture Festival in Nashville, Tenn., and the Audience Award at the Leith Film Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The world premiere of the film will be Sept. 6 at the Laemmle Grande in Los Angeles. The film is scheduled for screenings on Oct. 7 and 14 at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.

“This is the most significant project I will probably ever work on because it is the story of my role model and my inspiration,” Andre Hovsepian said.


Copyright©2007, JFA Productions, LLC                                                                                                          A CRY FROM IRAN


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