‘They said it would be better if I stayed here’

Iranian filmmaker Narges Kalhor made a last-minute decision to seek asylum in Germany on Monday after she was warned she might be arrested back home for showing a film critical of the regime’s human rights abuses. The daughter of a top advisor to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke to The Local about what comes next.

‘They said it would be better if I stayed here’
Photo: YouTube screenshot

The 25-year-old’s eighth film, “Darkhish,” or “The Rake,” premiered last Friday at the Nuremberg Human Rights Film Festival. Based on Franz Kafka’s short story, “In the Penal Colony,” the 10-minute film features a machine that brutally punishes alleged criminals by etching their transgressions into their flesh. Film festival organisers described the machine as a “symbol for a totalitarian barbarism” condemning Iran’s brutal penal system.

Why did you decide to apply for asylum in Germany?

Two days before the festival ended someone called from Iran – I won’t say who because I’m very afraid for my family, friends and my mother. They told me they had seen news about my film and the festival on the internet, and that it would be better if I stayed here, that I must stay here.

Your father Mehdi Kalhor is one of Ahmadinejad’s top advisors for cultural and media affairs. You said in a YouTube interview that appeared on Monday that he did not know of your film – do you have political differences?

My father works for the regime and I’ve had no contact with him for about six months, since he left our apartment. This is because of both political and family differences.

How do you feel about all of this?

I’m really scared for my family. They didn’t know I was coming here for a human rights festival. I told them and the Iranian airport officials that I was coming for a workshop in Halle. It’s a crazy thing to think that I may never return to Iran, especially when I think of my mother.

Did you anticipate problems like this?

When I was in Iran, I thought a film festival in Nuremberg would be small, that it wasn’t very well-known. I expected to come here and make new contacts for future work. I didn’t think that everything about me would appear online. I had to decide, do I take on problems with police in Iran or stay here? I prefer to stay here.

Where will you live in Germany?

I don’t want to say because I’m afraid.

Where are you now?

I’m staying at a home for asylum seekers.

Your German is very good, how long have you studied German and do you already have an interest in the culture?

I studied German for four years at the Goethe Institute in Iran and also a course in Germany. And my film comes from a Kafka story – I enjoy German literature.

What do you plan to do in Germany?

I really want to continue to make films about the problematic situation of human rights in Iran.

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TEST: Could you pass the German citizenship exam?

Obtaining German citizenship involves clearing numerous hurdles - including a multiple-choice citizenship test that will quiz you on your knowledge of German history, culture, geography and politics. Could you pass it?

TEST: Could you pass the German citizenship exam?

The German passport is one of the most powerful in the world – but getting your hands on one is no mean feat. 

Alongside strict residency and language requirements, people who want to become a naturalised German citizenship will have to sit an exam known as the Einbürgerungstest (Citizenship Test).

The exam is designed to ensure that migrants understand important aspects of Germany’s political system, like the rights enshrined in the constitution, and can deal with aspects of day to day life and culture in the Bundesrepublik.

READ ALSO: TEST: Is your German good enough for citizenship or permanent residency?

Additionally, there are usually questions on important milestones in German history such as the Second World War and the GDR, and you may encounter some geography questions and questions on the European Union as well. 

The test is in German and consists of 33 questions: 30 questions on Germany in general, and three related to the specific federal state you live in. 

It’s all in German, so people sitting the exam need to be fairly confident with their reading skills – but since it’s multiple choice, writing skills thankfully aren’t required. 

Though this may sound daunting, people are given a full hour to complete the test – and, anecdotally, most tend to finish much more quickly than that. You also only need to score 17 out of 33 (so just over 50 percent) to pass.

In addition, there are only a set number of questions that the Citizenship Test alternates between. You can find a list of all of them (in German) here, and also take a German-language practice test here.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How I got German citizenship – and how you can too

If you’d like to test your knowledge in English, however, we’ve put together a representative list of 16 questions to get you started. Viel Glück! (Good luck!)