Cyrus Kar at Spenta Productions is making movies about historical Persian figures - Cyrus the Great Movie, Learn About Cyrus the Great  
Cyrus Kar makes documentary movies Historical Persian Figures - Cyrus the Great Movie, Learn about Cyrus the Great
Spenta Productions- Cyrus The Great
Cyrus Kar makes documentary movies Historical Persian Figures - Cyrus the Great Movie, Learn about Cyrus the Great
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Cyrus Kar makes documentary movies Historical Persian Figures - Cyrus the Great Movie, Learn about Cyrus the Great
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Cyrus Kar makes documentary movies Historical Persian Figures - Cyrus the Great Movie, Learn about Cyrus the Great
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Cyrus Kar makes documentary movies Historical Persian Figures - Cyrus the Great Movie, Learn about Cyrus the Great

Spenta Productions - Questions & Answers:

  1. What inspired you to make a film about Cyrus The Great?
  2. Did you decide to make a documentary about Cyrus The Great because your name is Cyrus?
  3. Why did you risk your life by going to Iraq to film this documentary?
  4. Why do you think a film about Cyrus The Great has the power to unite East and West?
  5. Where did you learn about America´s founding Fathers having been influenced by the Cyropaedia?
  6. How did you get arrested in Iraq?
  7. Did you lose your film footage?
  8. Do you still support the war in Iraq?

  1.  What inspired you to make a film about Cyrus The Great?

    History was set on its head 150 years ago, when Herodotus was ushered in as the "Father of history." The Persian Empire, which had previously stood as a beacon of benevolent power, became a barbaric villain virtually overnight.

    Having been raised in the West, I was taught Herodotus´ version of history along with everybody else. But as an ethnic Iranian, being innately linked to the evil side of the Greco/Persian conflict had always haunted me.

    Imagine my euphoria when I learned not only that it wasn´t true, but that the roles had practically been reversed. Cheering for the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae, only because they were underdogs, would be like cheering for Osama Bin Laden today. Yes, they were underdogs but they were ruthless terrorists.

    It is a well-known fact that the Spartans practiced infanticide and killed Greek slaves, known as Helots, just for sport. Yet it is these primitive yokels who are cast in movie after movie as the gallant heroes that saved the West from Persian tyranny.

    I just thought it was finally time to set the historical record straight about the Persian Empire, and what better way to do that than through the power of film?

  2.  Did you decide to make a documentary about Cyrus The Great because your name is Cyrus?

    No. I was born in Iran, where ´Cyrus´ is a common name. It would be as if someone, by the name of George, made a film about George Washington.

  3.  Why did you risk your life by going to Iraq to film this documentary?

    We had started this documentary film more than a year before the war in Iraq began. Once the war began, we were quite concerned. Iraq was a vital filming location for us. But less than two months later, it was announced that, "mission [had been] accomplished." We filmed all the locations and thought U.S. forces would have control over the country in no time. But the longer we waited, the worse the situation got and the more money it was costing me. So we decided to wait until Iraq´s February, 2005 elections to see if the country would stabilize. By now I had invested over $250,000 of my own money into this project.

    After the elections, the situation in Iraq only got worse. We decided that it was now or never. If we waited, we may never get another chance. Despite the end result, we were right. When we entered Iraq on May 7, 2005, one could still travel throughout the country with a reasonable expectation of survival. Today, such expectations would not be reasonable.

  4.  Why do you think a film about Cyrus The Great has the power to unite East and West?

    A film about Cyrus The Great will show the West that Middle Easterners once shared many of the same values we consider "western values" today. At the same time, it will show Middle Easterners that gender equality, religious freedom, and due process are not trappings of western neo-imperialism, but were once celebrated by their own ancestors.

  5.  Where did you learn about America´s founding Fathers having been influenced by the Cyropaedia?

    We didn´t learn this from anyone. It is something we discovered, for the first time, during the course of our research for the film. I was consulting with an archeologist, by the name Kamyar Abdi, who teaches at Dartmouth. He told me that John Locke was a follower of the Cyropaedia. Since most of America´s founding Fathers were disciples of John Locke, I decided to check Mt. Vernon and Monticello to see if Washington or Jefferson owned any copies of the Cyropaedia.

    Both informed me that they had donated their respective libraries to the Library Of Congress in Washington DC. The Library Of Congress confirmed that Thomas Jefferson had not one, but two copies of the Cyropaedia, one in Greek and the other in Latin, two languages in which he was proficient. Furthermore there were five copies in total, at least one of which must have belonged to James Madison. I was told that there were probably many more copies of the Cyropaedia before the fire of 1851.

    Then it hit me. The choice facing America´s founding Fathers had faced countless other nation builders before them. Whether to establish a benevolent state or an authoritarian state revolved around two fundamental theories. The authoritarian state was represented by Machiavelli. Posing a far greater risk to the state, was the benevolent government put forth by Xenophon´s Cyropaedia. Most leaders opted for the former. What made America´s founding Fathers truly great, was their willingness to break with tradition and accept an enormous risk by bestowing similar rights to those Cyrus valued, on their citizens, such as religious tolerance and due process of law.

    The American system of government was the first of its kind and served as the blue print for Europe, beginning with France. Hence, Cyrus The Great may well have helped shape western civilization as we know it.

  6.  How did you get arrested in Iraq?

    The day before we were arrested, we had gone to film the ´Median Wall´ near the town of Balad, about an hour´s drive north of Baghdad. After filming, the four of us (my guide, driver, cameraman and I) were taken into custody by Iraqi police. Upon arriving at the police station, one of the policemen took off his belt and began whipping us.

    As soon as I identified myself as an American citizen, he stopped and his boss came out and told us, "you are no longer our prisoners, you are now our guests." After looking through our belongings, they let us go.

    The next morning, still traumatized by the night before, our guide quit and convinced our driver to leave with him. Suddenly, my cameraman and I found ourselves abandoned in the middle of Baghdad. So we returned to the central taxi depot in downtown Baghdad to hire a new driver.

    The driver we drew looked a bit too young and calculating. So my cameraman asked another driver to take us. But he declined citing that the young, wild-eyed kid was first in line. It became a running joke with us that the only place one could find law and order in Baghdad was at the central taxi depot."

    Once we arrived at a check point just outside of Balad, the Iraqi officer waved us through, but our driver stopped anyway and rattled off something in Arabic. All we were able to make out was, "Irani" and "Film."

    The police officer told us to pull aside. He and his comrades began searching the cab and checking our papers. All our documents were in order. But then, reminiscent of the day before, two more police cars arrived from headquarters and took us to another police station. There, we explained who we were to the ranking officer, who was far more congenial than his counterpart from the night before. He immediately made the distinction between driver and passenger. But when I informed him that I was an American, we were told to wait until U.S. troops arrived.

    After a couple hours, two American GI´s walked by us and into a closed-door session with Iraqi officials without asking us a single question. An hour later, we were being blindfolded and handcuffed. We were taken to the Paliwada detention camp adjacent to the police station, where we were left bound and blindfolded until we were interrogated early the next morning. It was during this first interrogation that we learned, for the first time, what we were being held for.

    Apparently, the Iraqi police had found some three dozen "washing machine timers" in the taxi´s trunk. We immediately explained to our interrogators that they belonged to the driver, that we were merely passengers. Despite the confessions of the taxi driver himself, our American captors took pictures of us with the timers.

    A few hours later, we were shackled and blindfolded again and placed in a humvee with the windows rolled up. I could hear the soldiers charting their course, while we baked inside the vehicles, under the tremendous heat. Just as we were about to pass out, the humvee began moving and a life-saving breeze entered through the machine-gun turret. A couple hours into our journey, the humvee carrying my cameraman broke down. Once again the convoy stopped, and once again the temperature inside the humvee began to rise.

    I knew I could endure the heat for about 20 minutes but beyond that was uncharted territory. I could hear them working on the broken-down vehicle outside. 20 minutes had elapsed and there was still no sign of the motor starting. After about 30 minutes, I was drenched in sweat and was beginning to drift in and out of consciousness. It was sad to suddenly come to the realization that my fellow countrymen really didn´t care whether they delivered a corpse or a live body to their destination.

    After what seemed like an eternity, I heard the clanking of chains as they were preparing to tow the broken-down humvee. The convoy began to move again but much slower. My wet body seemed to catch every gesture of air that strayed past the gun turret into the cabin of the humvee.

    When we arrived to what, I think, may have been Tikrit, we must have drank a gallon of water. After a few hours we were told that we couldn´t stay there and to get ready to move out. Twilight was approaching so I no longer worried about the heat.

    Once again, shackled and blindfolded, we waited for another long humvee ride. But then the sound of rotating helicopter blades became louder and louder. After about a 30-minute helicopter ride, we landed at Abu Ghraib prison. There we were told to kneel facing the wall.

    After a few minutes, we heard angry voices yelling. As they came closer I realized the hostility was directed at us. As our blindfolds were lifted, I saw a group of very angry young men. They greeted us with what seemed to be their standard mantra, "YOU HERE TO KILL AMERICANS?" "YOU F%#KIN´ TERRORISTS."

    We were led into a makeshift lobby. Everyone seemed to be enlisted. The highest ranking soldier may have been a Staff Sergeant, a heavy-set woman who was entirely indifferent to the yelling and chaos that was unfurling around her. The lack of mercy was eye-opening.

    During our journey, I had been telling my cameraman, an Iranian national, how good American people were. How we held the moral high ground. I felt embarrassed to the bone as he looked at me bewildered as if to ask, "so when is the compassionate part going to begin?"

    After "softening us up," the tallest MP in the room turned to my cameraman, and told him to strip. My cameraman, unable to understand, didn´t respond. He repeated his order in Arabic. My cameraman still didn´t understand. The MP was about to blow his stack, "YOU TRYIN´ TO BE FUNNY? I TOLD YOU TO TAKE YOUR F#%KIN´ CLOTHES OFF."

    I finally spoke up. "He´s not trying to be funny, he just doesn´t understand what you´re saying´," I explained quietly so as not to agitate him anymore than he already was. With a hint of befuddlement, perhaps in response to hearing fluent English coming from a smelly, dirty prisoner, he told me, in slightly lower decibels, "WELL TELL HIM TO TAKE HIS F#%KIN´ CLOTHS OFF; RIGHT NOW!"

    So I told my cameraman in Persian, "Farshid take your clothes off." In front of all the women in the room, he stripped. My fellow countrymen, my former brothers in arms, began to laugh at my cameraman as he stood naked in the lobby.

    At that point, I was placed into another humvee and taken across town to Camp Cropper, where I spent the next 54 days.

  7.  Did you lose your film footage?

    No. But we were never able to film the ruins of Babylon, the site we had gone there to shoot. I also lost some 400 still images, when my digital camera was stolen by hotel personnel.

    After two months in prison, they probably thought we were dead and pilfered our belongings. All our cash, cell phones, and anything else they could stuff into their pockets was taken. But our film was of no value to them, so they left it.

  8.  Do you still support the war in Iraq?

    I never supported war. I supported and yes, continue to support the liberation of oppressed people - by force if necessary. Here´s why:

    It is a known fact that two democracies have NEVER gone to war. That´s not say that one democracy has never overthrown another via coups d‘état. In fact, the country of my birth was a victim of one such coup. So if overthrowing a democracy and instituting a despot is wrong, I argued with myself, wouldn´t overthrowing a ruthless dictator and instituting democracy be right?

    It´s just an opinion, and if you don´t fault me for it, I won´t fault you for disagreeing with me.

    By supporting the spread of democracy in the Middle East, I thought I was supporting peace. But I, along with many others who supported regime change in Iraq, could have never imagined the failure of our leadership´s decision-making process. There is after all historic precedence for successfully liberating Iraq by means of force.

    Cyrus The Great´s invasion of Iraq was strikingly similar to President Bush´s invasion of Iraq. Nabonidus, the king of Iraq (or Babylonia) during the time of Cyrus, and Sadam Hussein were both minority kings, who ruled over a majority. Both Nabonidus and Sadam Hussein were unpopular with their people. Both Cyrus´s army and U.S. troops were initially received as liberators. But that´s where the similarities end.

    Cyrus won the hearts and minds of the Babylonian people. Some of his decisions, which prevented his image as ‘liberator’ from slipping into ‘occupier’ are a matter of record:

    a) In his famous cylinder Cyrus tells us in his own words how he took great care not to allow any looting to take place: “I did not allow any troublemakers to arise. The city of Babylon and all its cult centers, I maintained in prosperity.”

    b) Unlike our policy of “de-Baathification,” Cyrus granted amnesty to enemy combatants. According to Xenophon, Cyrus told vanquished Babylonian soldiers: “You shall dwell in the same houses and work the same farms; you shall lie with the same wives and have control of your children just as now. But you shall not have to fight either us or anyone else again.”

    c) Perhaps most importantly, Cyrus spared the life of Nabonidus. According to Berossus, “Cyrus spared [the life of] Nabonidus and gave him a residence in Carmaria in south-central Persia.”

    We on the other hand celebrate Sadam Hussein´s death sentence as a victory, missing yet another opportunity to restore our shattered image as ‘liberator.’

    History can guide us through many of the pitfalls that plague us today. The story of Cyrus The Great is surprisingly appropriate for our time.

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