Afghan Rockers Meet Metallica In Award-Winning Iranian Movie

By Fred Parvaneh

Radio Dreams,” the award-winning film by Babak Jalali, had its LA premiere on May 7. Produced by Marjaneh Moghimi, the movie is centered around a quest by Kabul Dreams – Afghanistan’s first metal rock band – to meet their all-time heroes: Metallica.

The movie was screened during the two-week Iranian film festival at the Billy Wilder Theater inside L.A.’s Hammer Museum. It was part of the UCLA Celebration of Iranian Cinema sponsored by the Farhang Foundation.

The film unfolds over the course of a single day at a fictional Persian-speaking San Francisco radio station. The station manager, Mr. Royani (skillfully played by the Iranian folk singer Mohsen Namjoo) has arranged an East-meets-West musical encounter between the young Afghan band and the world-famous heavy-metal band, Metallica. (Metallica‘s drummer Lars Urlich actually makes a late appearance in the movie.)

As the characters wait for Metallica to show up for the on-air performance, the movie focuses on individuals at the radio station, introducing notes of deadpan humor. The film tackles issues of immigration and cultural assimilation experienced by the Iranian diaspora, as well as their missed opportunities and heartaches.

Cast of “Radio Dreams” (from left) Mohsen Mamjoo, Bella Warda, Keyumars Hakim and Boshra Dastournezhad.

“Radio Dreams” features strong performances not just from the lead actor Mohsen Namjoo (who won the Best Actor award at the Durban International Film Festival), but also from the supporting cast. Model and actress Boshra Dastournezhad plays the station owner’s daughter. In one of the movie’s more memorable subplots, the theater actress Bella Warda recites a story about her mother in the near-extinct language of Assyrian.

In a post-screening Q&A, producer Marjaneh Moghimi, known for documentaries such as “Fifi Howls From Happiness” (about the late Iranian modern artist Bahman Mohassess), discussed the movie along with other cast members.

“After ‘Fifi,’ I wanted to do a movie about a radio station in San Francisco,” she said. “I had been a fan of Babak Jalali, and I tracked him down in London and pitched the idea to him. After a few meetings at the Berlin Film Festival, we decided to start the project.”

Kabul Dreams (from left) Raby Adib, Sulyman Qardash and Siddique Ahmed. Photograph: Wikipedia / Alykhan Kaba

“Radio Dreams is my first feature film, although it’s a semi-documentary, since Kabul Dreams are a real band out of Afghanistan, and Lars Urlich plays himself,” she noted. “I had worked with Namjoo on a number of different projects, and I had told him that if I ever did a feature film, I wanted him to be in the movie, and he agreed. His only request was that he didn’t want to play a musician.”

As a consequence, the movie script was changed to make Mr. Namjoo a writer. The radio station manager was made to look like Mr. Namjoo – with the same long hair – and to share his eccentricities, the film’s producer said.

“Radio Dreams” will be released theatrically in Los Angeles in mid-June.

Metallica (from left) Robert Trujillo, Lars Ulrich, James Hatfield and Kirk Hammett. Photograph: Metallica Members Image Gallery

“Radio Dreams” has already claimed the Tiger Award (Best Picture) at the 45th International Film Festival in Rotterdam, the Special Jury Mention at the Seattle International Film Festival, and the Best Director award for Babak Jalali at the International Andrei Tarkovsky Film Festival in Russia.

The film is executive-produced by the Neda Nobari Foundation.