Iranian taekwondo star in spotlight at Sundance

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The Independent Culture

The arduous journey of the first woman to represent Iran at the Olympics has been brought to life in a documentary being screened at the Sundance Film Festival.

Fatima Geza Abdollahyan's film - "Kick In Iran" - follows taekwondo fighter Sara Khoshjamal as she prepares to take part in the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing and strike a blow for female athletes in her male-dominated homeland.

Although Khoshjamal's exploits were widely reported in Iran, Abdollahyan said she was prompted to make the film after discovering many Iranians were not aware of what hurdles the athlete had overcome to reach Beijing.

"My first thought was maybe that I can tell a story about Iran and about Iranian society," Abdollahyan said.

"Sara and her coach have to pay a higher price for what they want to do," the director explained, noting that Khoshjamal is required to wear a headscarf during training and competition and was forbidden from using a male trainer.

At the heart of the documentary is the relationship between Khoshjamal and her female coach, Maryam Azarmehr.

Azarmehr's support of her young protege comes after a lifelong love affair with taekwondo which began when the coach was 18.

"(Azarmehr) learned everything from her husband," Abdollahyan explained. "At that time, it was really hard. It was after the revolution and women were not allowed to go out when it was dark and they were much more limited to their houses than they are today.

"Azarmehr and Sara's relationship is so special because they understand each other so well. One understands what the other one wants to achieve in life."

Azarmehr, said Abdollahyan, can not fulfill her life-long dream or goal without Sara.

"And Sara would not be able to do what she's doing without Azarmehr, because there are not many women in this country who would be able to make her achieve her goal."

Despite the obstacles - some of them Iranian hardliners - to her pursuit of a career as an Olympic athlete, Khoshjamal had never dreamed of furthering her ambitions by going into exile overseas.

"She has an extremely good family that supports her, she has a very good coach," the director said.

"Of course, she has a lot of problems in comparison to other athletes in other countries, but you know, people in Iran are also very aware that once they leave the country, they are second-class citizens in other countries."

Khoshjamal also remains resolutely apolitical, Abdollahyan stressed.

"Sara herself is not openly a very political person. She's very intelligent and she understands everything that goes (on) around her, but to be honest, she knows that she can't change it anyway," the director said.

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