Iran has a long cinematic tradition of feature films with children in the main roles. This has made it possible to tackle adult themes that would otherwise have been blocked by the censor. In his documentary Homework (1989), Abbas Kiarostami trains his camera on children who are just being children. The six-year-old schoolkids he interviews on subjects such as homework, punishment, and reward have been drilled to provide socially appropriate responses, but with gentle persistence the director elicits more honest answers, painting a more realistic picture. Corporal punishment is commonplace, parents are unable to help with homework because they are illiterate or have no time, and schools focus on mindless repetition and unquestioning loyalty and discipline.
Kiarostami’s visual investigation paints a disturbing picture of the Iranian school system, and thereby also of a society that both produces these educational methods and is shaped by them. The conversations also form a portrait of the generation that grew up during the Iran-Iraq War, a generation who lived in a permanent state of uncertainty, were force-fed propaganda on a daily basis, and were allowed few opportunities to enjoy the playfulness of childhood.