Travel Documentaries are weird hybrids, part anthological investigation of a people, part landscape, part adventure and part “mate-who-went-to-Bali-for-their-gap-year-and-can’t-shut-up-about-how-happy-everyone-who-is-without-material-goods-all-the-while-using-their-tablet-to-find-the-location-of-that-new-rave-site-the-has-been-all-over-Facebook-recently.”
The point is that the Travel Docs tend to wear several hats and in doing so become lacklustre or pretentious.
Karun, despite wearing more hats than an Arcade Fire front row, manages to find the balance needed to tell its story. Crowdfunded through Kickstarter, travel writer Tom Allen and expeditionist Leon McCarron are not trying the make a film about river rafting or cross country, that’s just the background, the sell. The actual story is them trying to show the real Iran and her people beyond normal media presentation. This is a story about Iran’s people, her landscape and to an extent they do quite well. You will notice the word extent there, I’ll come back to it in a mo.
Taking its name after the 450 mile long river, Karun follows Tom and Leon as they try to show Iran in details otherwise ignored, from the snow covered peaks down into forest and rivers that looked like they’ve been ripped out from somewhere in Norway, not what you would come to expect in a reportedly desert nation, they showcase the early wonders of the Persian Empire, with ancient cities that rival those in Greece, to the modern steel and marble towns, on par with Germany, all the while showing the hospitality, kindness and laid back attitude of the Iranian people with their ready offers of free rooms for the night, free food and free bikes. Rather than the conservative and humourless image we might have, its shows how quickly they’re ready to help someone, share tea, poetry and conversation.
So what about that ‘to an extent’ a paragraph ago? The films downfall is not in its story telling or their inability to set up the point of focus right (come guys, auto if you can’t). No the downfall is on the constraints and tassels added to it. Due to the government being the tiniest bit worried of foreign reporters they can only talk to a few people in areas with little police presents. Several times the cops speak to them, off camera, and it’s treated more like heavy rain than the panic induced fear it should. They mention this limitation several times, and yes I understand the problems it can cause but there are ways around it. Also why is the water rafting in it anyway? This is meant to be about the Iranian people, though the bit when a random stranger gives them a new paddle sort of justifies this. Sort of.
Trying to write about a travel doc is awkward at the best of times and Karun isn’t any different. See, if it was bad I could let rip, if it was brilliant I could fawn, as it is, it’s okay, not bad, can’t go either way. It does show a different and positive side to Iran, its shows that its people are friendly and welcoming, its landscape is breath taking but limited by fear of the police and weighted down by obligatory adventure for the Sell is doesn’t quite grasp that OmyGoditsamazing quality. Worth a watch or two and I would advise giving it a go.
3 / 5
Dir: Rhys Thwaites-Jones
Featuring: Tom Allen, Leon McCarron
Prd: Tom Allen, Leon McCarron
Karun: Misadventures On Iran’s Longest River will be released worldwide digitally via http://karunfilm.com/ on Monday 16thNovember and had its premiere at the Royal Geographical Society in London on Saturday 14th November