Monday, November 7, 2016


Today’s blog entry was provoked by a strain of threads that I will try to weave together into a coherent post. Part movie review and opinion piece on welcoming the outsider, the other.

First did anyone catch the Washington Post article, The White Flight of Derek Black?

Derek Black was the son and heir apparent to a white supremacy movement. He was a junior cadet so to speak and even authored his own column/blog at their Stormfront website which spews hate and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Of course, we have been hearing a lot of this lately. And, in America, free speech is a right. Derek Jr. even helped his father host a radio talk show show and podcast. These guys were committed to their message.

So what would make someone so comfortable with their ideology change course, to decide to chuck it and actually become an outcast from his own family? I was surprised to read this in the article:

“He joined a new online message group, this one for couch surfers, and he opened up his one-bedroom apartment to strangers looking for a temporary place to stay. It felt increasingly good to trust people — to try to interact without prejudice or judgment — and after a while, Derek began to feel detached from the person he had been.”

Since 2007 I’ve been a Couchsurfing host here in Chicago. I get about 9 requests a day and have hosted a total of at least 300 surfers. Some people get the philosophy behind it, while others simply see it as getting a free place to stay. More often than not my guests want to hear more about me, as I do them, we both want to interact and engage. I try to sit down with my guests and have a meal at least once during their visit. Occasionally the connection goes further and we return the visit in their home country. There is also the case where my guest returns and we have been able to establish an on-going relationship. It’s crazy what offering hospitality can open you up to. My life is definitely bigger. No longer do I have to travel in order to meet people because every couple of weeks, the world comes to me.

Just by offering hospitality and making ourselves available to others changes us.

This is basically what happened to me this past week and was reinforced last night at the Chicago International Film Festival, with the film Malaria.

I got a request from a surfer and it seemed in his halting English like he was requesting for almost 2 weeks. This is a long time when you’re not sure if you might want to even host a person for one hour. But after reading his profile, I thought: he sounds interesting. He was an actor from Iran coming to Chicago for the opening of a film he participated in at the film festival. I told my husband and within seconds he emailed me back, TAKE HIM. Apparently his family cinema royalty in Iran, as his father started a theater company in Tehran and his sisters have all acted in major roles in international films. My husband Mike loves Iranian cinema and actually has seen a film by the director of the movie Azi appears in. It seemed like a match made in heaven for us. But I only wanted to take him for at most 5 days.

But 5 days melted into 2 weeks—and last night we went to see him in the movie.

We got to the theater and of course our tickets were not at Will Call. Azi had to come out and talk us into the showing. I mention this because this exact scene is actually PLAYED OUT IN THE FILM. Everywhere there was a sense of déjà vu. A film about a film and about how we record our lives, perhaps even living through our camera phone. But the film was also about an open-hearted man who picks up 2 hitchhikers and how offering hospitality to these 2 travelers ultimately changes his life, and theirs, and not exactly for the better. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In the film Azi who plays a character called Azi who is a musician much like the real-life Azi. Also in the movie he invites his new-found friends plus his band, which in real-life are his actual band, to a movie that he’s in! But after waiting in line and talking to theater staff about the free tickets they are denied entry. Thankfully we were able to get into the film—an example where art did not imitate life. Instead they go back out onto the streets of Tehran where crowds are gathering to celebrate the signing of the Iran Nuclear Deal—which was in the news and was woven into the movie because it simply was. It was a film about making a film while the players were filming. A sort of hall of mirrors.

But this connection, his offer of hospitality turns controversial and Azi is arrested. I won’t reveal too much more—as you need to look up the movie Malaria and watch it yourself.

By the way: Azi is the MAIN CHARACTER in the movie—so we have ended up housing a film star! I’m so glad we took a chance! *The title of the film is the name of the band that Azi is in.

In Farsi with subtitles
A young woman elopes with her boyfriend to Tehran. To cover her tracks, she tells her father she’s been kidnapped. With her family in hot pursuit, the couple takes up with a band of bohemian street musicians and forms an elaborate plan for a more permanent escape. Mixing real-life on-the-streets footage with a tense lovers-on-the-run drama, Festival alum Parviz Shahbazi crafts a lively look at the cultural clashes that exist deep within Iranian society.

Director/writer Parviz Shahbazi and actor Azarakhsh Farahani are scheduled to attend both screenings.
Azi got lots of love from a Venice Film Festival reviewer: “This central conflict is also embodied most fully in the character of irresponsible slacker Azi (Azarakhsh Farahani), who is easily the highlight of the film. Through his love of the Beatles, and pop-culture t-shirts, Azi is the most outwardly modern character. He exudes a simple kindness towards Hanna and Mori, two people he has no real reason to help. This eventually turns him into a tragic figure as he suffers thanks to their actions...” The reviewer describes the film as “highly likable…thanks to Farahani’s portrayal of the lovely Azi.”

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