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Woman with short, curly dark hair and dressed in black, steps up to a podium at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.

Gut-Level Understanding of Afghan Refugees in Iran Permeates “In the Land of Brothers”

Writer-director Raha Amirfazli answers questions after the premiere of “In the Land of Brothers” on January 22 at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. (Photo by Marc Sagliocco/Shutterstock for Sundance Film Festival)

By Vanessa Zimmer

The plight of refugees sneaking across borders in the dark of night in search of a better life earns daily mentions in newscasts around the world. But a gut-deep understanding of the experience comes only when storytellers like Raha Amirfazli and Alireza Ghasemi plumb the depths of the physical and emotional toll on those making these formidable journeys. 

Amirfazli and Ghasemi’s debut feature film, In the Land of Brothers, opened January 22 in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. 

As testimony to the long view on refugees, these two writer-directors spin three separate fictional stories, each 10 years apart, of members of an extended Afghan family attempting to make their homes in Iran. The film’s title refers to a declaration of Iran being “the land of their brothers” from Afghanistan, according to a message at the opening of the film. 

In spite of that, Afghans are often treated badly — like Mohammed, a bright high school boy surprised and forced by Iranian authorities into a dirty work detail after school and too afraid to tell his father. Afghans know they might be brutalized or deported on Iranian authorities’ whim.

Amirfazli and Ghasemi are both Iranian, and in striving for authenticity, they chose nonactors from Afghan communities in Iran for roles in the film. The three stories are based upon similar experiences the two uncovered in their research and affirmed by those who showed up for the casting call, co-director Amirfazli says during the post-premiere Q&A. “They would say, ‘Oh, my brother has lived through this story.’” And the brother would show up later at the casting call.

Afghans have a long history of being displaced by war, natural disasters, and poverty. But the filmmakers also hope their stories are relatable globally, according to a written Q&A with the Sundance Institute. Amirfazli reiterates that on premiere night. “We hope that this film would bring another perspective to all of the audiences and help them think twice about their own interactions with the immigrants and communities in their own cities,” she explains. 

The film makes clear that the wretchedness does not end even when these refuge-seekers find a new home, a place to shelter, and work to support their families. In fact, the writer-directors say, the struggle will not abate until all countries see refugees as equals, when refugees are no longer marginalized — until they actually belong.

Amirfazli hopes she and Ghasemi can someday screen In the Land of Brothers in Iran. She tells the audience, ”We will be trying our best because Iranian audiences need to see this film and feel all the feelings that you have been feeling.”

To see more from the 2024 Festival, click here.