Censorship unleashed: Najmeh's journey from Iran to UB

Arts and cinema student finds ambition through film

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The Spectrum

Najmeh Moradiyan was treated like a celebrity in her hometown upon being accepted to UB.

Her acceptance into the university was announced on the local news. She fielded countless phone calls and people assumed she was going to become a famous actress. She was the first female from Lenjan, Iran, to leave and pursue a degree in cinema and film.

She forged her path to America because of Iran's restrictive culture.

When she was a cinematic consultant at a TV competition in Iran, one of her duties was to provide questions for the producer being featured on the show. She raised her hand to ask the film professional a question: "What was the cinematic technique Steven Spielberg used in his film Saving Private Ryan?"

The producer would not answer the question, so Moradiyan asked why her curiosity was being disregarded.

His response was the final trigger that led her to leave her homeland and pursue her passion in America: "Because Steven Spielberg is Jewish," he said.

Born and raised in Iran, Moradiyan lived a childhood of restrictions. She had the ability to pursue her passion for media but under many limitations. Many of her questions were censored, similar to her question about Spielberg's techniques. Moradiyan is currently a graduate student in the Media Study department. She's using her time in America to launch her career in cinema.

The Internet in Iran is not as free or open as it is in other countries, Moradiyan said. She knew a career in media would not be possible, even with a good resume, unless she left Iran and moved to America to pursue her Master's degree in arts and cinema. On Jan. 8, 2012, at exactly midnight, Moradiyan's flight from Iran to her new home, Buffalo, landed. She was prepared to begin her journey.

"I felt like my American dream was coming true," Moradiyan said. "I couldn't believe my eyes that I was here, around all of these Americans and other people with different nationalities."

Moradiyan said she remembers taking her time and looking around. She wanted to move very slowly so she could truly grasp the feeling of each moment in her new home.

Saying goodbye to home

Moradiyan is an only child. The goodbye was just as hard for her parents as it was for her, she said.

"Their eyes were filled with tears because goodbye is a different situation with Iranian students," Moradiyan said. "When you come to the U.S., you don't know when you're going to get back. Most Iranian students have a one-entry visa, so when they come to the U.S., they cannot go back until they finish their studies. It's just hard."

Moradiyan has a multiple-entries visa, but she remains cautious with her travels and is refraining from returning to Iran. She will stay in the United States until she is finished with school because she is unsure whether she would be allowed back into the states due to the diplomatic system in Iran. Moradiyan does not know when she will be able to see her family again.

Moradiyan realized the sacrifices she was making and the sacrifices her family was making upon saying goodbye to everyone. She said her parents were being incredibly selfless by letting her come to the United States because they are so emotionally tied to her and dependent on her. She knew she was sacrificing years apart from her family and they were sacrificing a lot of money for her future and happiness.

When she feels down or lost in America, she looks at the photograph of her mom in her wallet. Her parents are her motivation.

Because the Internet is so blocked in her country, she has very little communication with her family. She sends her mother pictures of herself working with cameras and other film instruments via email.

Cultural differences

"There are lots of cultural differences," Moradiyan said. "[Here] you can find a lot of people with different nationalities and religions; you have to learn how to get along with diverse groups of people. In my country, the majority of people are Muslim and they speak Persian or Farsi."

Though Moradiyan feels the cultural differences each day, those surrounding her believe she has integrated into the American culture very well.

"I don't have a strong awareness of cultural differences," said Dean Sanborn, the graduate program coordinator for the Media Study Department. "She's been a strong presence in the department. She's a very positive person and she's very conscientious about her work, both as a student and for the department itself. So we feel very positive about having her here. We know that there are good things in store for her and for her future."

Moradiyan felt welcomed and at home when she got to America. She did not feel discriminated against in the slightest and she was looking forward to mingling with other groups of people. In Iran, she was raised Muslim, which was considered to be the elite and privileged group - she was lucky. However, Moradiyan has always been open to other cultures, even in Iran.

She said Persians are really open to other cultures, but the government masks the congeniality of Iranian citizens.

"I am an easygoing person and I've realized if you work based on your honesty, loyalty, and just be yourself in this society, everything is possible for you," Moradiyan said.

In Iran, this was not the case. She knew many good-hearted people who could not succeed because of their gender or religion. Some of her friends wanted to enter the field of directing, but because they were females, it was difficult for them to lead and rule a film's production.

There is a language barrier between Moradiyan and many of her classmates. She taught herself some English in Iran, though, and the barrier doesn't bother her. She has no problem speaking with anybody on campus or off campus - she networks all the time and loves to discuss her experiences in America.

Michael Tyson, a graduate student studying elementary education, works with Moradiyan in the media study equipment room. The two have had an opportunity to bond and get to know each other during shifts.

"I think Najmeh has done an excellent job of integrating with our society," Tyson said. "I am amazed at how different things are for her because she seems to fit in so well now ... I have also never seen an international student ... embrace American cultures so passionately. Najmeh stretches her budget as thin as she can in order to experience as much culture and cuisine as she can get her hands on here in Buffalo."

Tyson also said he thinks Moradiyan is brilliant and talented with a keen eye for the human condition. He also predicts she will go far in the field if given the opportunity.

The fascination with media study

Moradiyan is actively involved in media at UB. She is one of 70 Iranian students at UB this semester, according to Eric Comins, coordinator for student programs at International Education Services. She is the only Iranian student receiving her degree in film and media at UB, Moradiyan said. She bonds with other international students in the field, making friends from Brazil, Korea, China and other areas.

After one year studying media in America, Moradiyan received an internship at WKBW's A.M. Buffalo show. She works hands on with live television, assisting the producer, director and host biweekly.

"Najmeh is amazing," said Linda Pellegrino, host of A.M. Buffalo's morning talk show. "She has traveled so far and from such a different culture and yet she is eager to please and blend into our life here in [Western New York]. I was amazed to hear that she already has done one film, a documentary. I'm anxious to see it.

"When you think of the male-dominated culture she's from and the life she has carved out for herself with her family's blessing, it should be a lesson for us all. If you work hard enough and want to succeed, you will ultimately be successful. She arrives upbeat, ready to work. She understands the tasks that help our show succeed and is truly happy to be here."

Pellegrino looks forward to seeing Moradiyan in Hollywood one day. She said Moradiyan has used her time at WKBW wisely and will continue to learn and use the experience to expand her horizons in the film world.

Moradiyan's fascination with media stemmed from her middle school years.

"I used to go to a lot of movie theaters and follow the film reviews and the critics," Moradiyan said. "I used to talk about them and my friends would laugh and say, 'Oh my God, she's starting again.'"

However, because Moradiyan was the top student in her class throughout high school, her father wanted her to pursue a degree in medicine.

"He wanted me to go to medical school but I insisted that movies are my favorite thing and that was what I wanted to do," Moradiyan said. "I said, 'I know it's difficult especially at this time,' but I promised my father that if he let me pursue my interest, I'd promise to do my best to make him proud."

Once she decided on the media industry, she had to choose a concentration. She always loved acting and did well in front of the camera. However, Moradiyan said her society forced her to become more introverted because there were too many restrictions for female students. Many things she wanted to do were deemed unacceptable in society. So she chose editing. Moradiyan said the ability to work with only her computer was the best choice for her because nobody could restrict her that way.

She attended a school in Tehran to receive her bachelor's degree in editing. She created her portfolio, edited a myriad of films and created two short films and documentaries on her own. These good grades and successful pieces of work got her into UB's media and art program.

"At that time, I was the first girl in my hometown [to leave the country to pursue film]. People looked at the film industry as a [negative] place to work or study at," Moradiyan said. "They wanted engineers and doctors - the most prestigious fields. When I [chose film], the city was in shock."

Though the majority of the city was astonished, other young students with a passion for art became inspired. Before she left, Moradiyan advised and counseled these students to pursue their dreams. She's proud to say she's helped two people apply and become accepted to media programs outside of Iran.

Moradiyan now has the ability to work with other professionals at UB. In addition to her internship at WKBW, she helps host events for Iranian Cinema.

Iranian film directors, who have been held under house arrest and have been banned from their own country, such as Jafar Panahi, inspire Moradiyan to continue working within the film industry.

Moradiyan said the Iranian government believes films like Panahi's show the "dark side" of society in Iran. Moradiyan understands these restrictions, so she did what she had to do in order to succeed in the field: move to America.

"For me, film and art is the like the blood in my veins," Moradiyan said. "When I go to the movie theater and I see a film, I come out with tears. I feel like there is something going on within myself. There is pure joy from watching these films."

Carl Lee, director of facilities and equipment for the media study department, said he is sure Moradiyan will be successful in whatever she pursues.

"She strikes me as very ambitious, very smart [and] very responsible," Lee said. "She seems like the type of person that is inquisitive. She's not shy. She figures out what she wants and who to talk to and she gets things done."

Lee said he was very surprised upon seeing her work. The few pieces she's shown him have been high quality with a lot of slick, motion graphics in them, he said.

She is currently brainstorming ideas for her thesis. She looks forward to pursuing a career in media and advancing her knowledge and impact on the United States. Her dream is coming true.

Email: features@ubspectrum.com