‘Starless Dreams’ divulges truth of child inmates


Ronel Ghidey

“Sir, the judge told me today I was a b——. What was my sin? I wasn’t there when they made me,” Nobody, one of the inmates, yells between tears at the Imam, a muslim priest during one of their morning prayers. The priest, who can’t or won’t specifically answer Nobody’s question out of the multiple being thrown at him, sprouts some obscure words of wisdom about how it’s their jobs as female muslims to keep the peace in society.
As one of the many female protagonists in “Starless Dreams,” Nobody, who was sentenced in prison for theft, came from a broken home, and has a story similar to her fellow inmates. In Director Mehrdad Oskouei’s final installment of his trilogy depicting children in correctional facilities in the Middle East, he hits the audience with a barrage of emotionally resonating scenes while keeping a focused overarching question: what happens after prison for these girls?
In the film, Oskouei follows a group of seven girls who’ve committed crimes ranging from theft to murder, and instead of showing us the hardened criminals one would expect with a record like that, surprises us with a tight-knit group of charismatic girls who are just victims to the circumstances of the life around them.
Coming from broken homes and the streets, it seems as if society has all but given up completely on these girls, who even at this point don’t want to be released. With the new year and some of their release dates coming up, Oskouei poses the question of what will happen to these girls after their release, and the answers the girls come up with are nothing but depressing. Some of them don’t even want to be released, because where they come from is much worse than where they are now.
As the daughters of crackheads and drug dealers, these girls-turned-women have been molested, sold off to marriage, and kicked into the streets of Iran, making their juvenile center into a sanctorum that not only helped them to clean up their act, but allowed for them to connect with others who’ve gone through the same experiences as them.
Throughout this film Oskouei focuses on each of the seven girls, having them tell their story which most are open about, even if it’s forced through tears. From Masoumeh’s calm declaration of killing her father so he’d stop beating her mom, to 651 describing that her name is the number of grams she was caught with, your heart can’t help but ache for these children who’ve all had to grow up too fast.
Overall, the time Oskouei spent in getting to know these girls while filming the documentary was well worth it. Over those seven years, the story developed and matured into an overwhelming, impactful film. Because of his close relationship with these girls, Oskouei was able to get a personal perspective of these facilities from the eyes of the women in it, making for an emotional and powerful film that shows these women for the struggles they face both in and out of these facilities and the desires they share to simply find their place in their world.
See ‘Starless Dreams’ tomorrow, March 6 at 8:30 p.m. at the Big Ragtag Cinema as part of the True/False Film Festival this weekend.