Still from "The Smallest Power"

A new documentary short by Iranian-American filmmaker and Russellville native Andy Sarjahani is now available for viewing as part of the New Yorker’s documentary series.

“The Smallest Power,” which premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival in January, gets its title from the testimony of an anonymous medical resident in Iran who — on top of mostly black and white animation — recounts a modest but inspiring act of courage during the country’s Woman, Life, Freedom protests that erupted after the death of Mahsi Amina. Amina was “arrested and reportedly beaten for revealing some of her hair, a violation of Iran’s mandatory-hijab law,” according to the New Yorker.

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“This is the only thing I could do. I don’t have the power to do anything about a child being killed in another city. But I have yet the smallest power,” the woman says in voiceover. You can watch the short below:

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The New Yorker’s write-up about the film includes some interesting reflections from Sarjahani about what it was like to grow up in Arkansas as the child of parents with clashing backgrounds — one a Baptist from the South, the other a Shiite Muslim from Iran. 

An ordinary homelife was “complicated by geopolitics,” he reflected. Members of his mother’s church regularly visited to try to convert his father. As a kid, Sarjahani was embarrassed. “What’s wrong with my dad?” he wondered. He distanced himself from his heritage, playing high-school football and hunting deer to fit in. He had a shotgun and has appeared in his videos in overalls. “My features are Iranian,” he once wrote about himself. He has an elegant Persian nose and dark eyes. “But my twang is all Arkansas.”

Sarjahani began to experience an internal pivot after the 9/11 attacks, in 2001. “The way people felt about Iranians or Middle Easterners, just speaking very transparently in front of me, I was like, Wow, this is the community that I grew up with, and this is how people feel about the other half of me,” he said. His friends and even his extended family were cheering to bomb Iran.

Sarjahani was a cinematographer for “The Barber of Little Rock,” a recent Oscar-nominated documentary about Little Rock resident Arlo Washington that was also showcased by the New Yorker. His other most recent documentary, “Wild Hogs and Saffron,” logs a contemplative hunting trip in the Ozarks between he and his childhood friend.

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More about Sarjahani’s work can be found on his website.

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