In 1976, someone abandoned a 6-month-old baby girl at the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad, the second most-populous city in Iran. At an orphanage, she was given the name Farideh. Before her second birthday, she was adopted by a couple from the Netherlands and given a new name: Eline Koning. As she grew older, Farideh wanted to visit Iran, but her Dutch parents considered it too dangerous. By the time she was 30, she was experiencing an identity crisis, but it wasn’t until she was 36 years old that she began an active search for the Iranian part of her soul. She wondered if it was possible to find the family that had abandoned her. She started an online blog and eventually her story was shared in newspapers in Mashhad. When three families who had also had baby girls abandoned at the same shrine at the same time contacted Farideh, she decided it was finally time to visit Iran. By this time, she was almost 40 years old. Filmmakers Azadeh Moussavi and Kourosh Ataee asked if they could accompany her on her journey and record her experiences. Crowdfunding with the help of 300 people made the film possible. Thus, we have the documentary Finding Farideh.
When she arrives in Iran, Farideh is met by an online friend, Negar Rahimi, who welcomes her warmly and serves as Farideh’s guide and translator. Along with Farideh, we meet the three families, each of whom has a moving story of a long-lost child. Multiple members of each family submit to DNA tests, and they all wait for a month for the results. While this is going on, Farideh comes to view herself as having an “Iranian heart with a Dutch mind.”
When the Farabi Cinema Foundation chose Finding Farideh as Iran’s entry in the Academy Awards, the filmmakers ran into a problem. Although Iranian films had won the Foreign Language Academy Award in 2011 and 2016, U.S. sanctions against Iran imposed by the Trump administration put extra obstacles in their way. According to Moussavi and Ataee, “In order to send the DVDs and hard drives of Finding Farideh to the Academy, we had to put our trust in an old man we’d met at the airport who was heading to the United States. We will never forget that we watched him pile our precious film package atop his diabetes and cholesterol pills to take to New York, and from there send it to Los Angeles.” While the supporters of Parasite were spending a small fortune promoting their film, Moussavi and Ataee had to launch a second Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. Thanks to 92 backers, they raised $17,397. In the end, Moussavi and Ataee could not travel to Los Angeles, but Farideh, as a Dutch citizen, was able to attend U.S. screenings.
At the Asian World Film Festival in Culver City, California, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Farideh twice. I found her not just a charming proponent of her own story, but an advocate for Iranian adoptees. I watched as she met with two other Iranian adoptees she had met online and with Emilia Karpaty, the former director of the orphanage from which she was adopted in 1977. I only wish more people could get the chance to view the film about Farideh’s search.