By Scott Knopf | April 14, 2010

Sara Khoshjamal qualified to compete in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Her sport: kickboxing. Her country: Iran. Her “something extra”: she was the first to ever do it.

Following Khoshjamal from her training sessions until her post-Games homeland reception, this enlightening documentary says a lot about its subject and tries to give context as to her position within her country. The nineteen year old athlete follows the laws of her country and competes wearing her hijab (head scarf). Uniform regulations aren’t the only difference between Khoshjamal and her opponents. For example, in Iran, female athletes aren’t allowed male coaches, while in most other countries, most female kickboxers are trained by men. Khoshjamal’s trainer, who the girls respectively call “Master,” comes across as a stern yet knowledgeable coach. After the revolution, she and a small group of women were trained in Tae Kwon Do by male relatives (which is allowed) and once traveling abroad for sporting competitions was allowed, she pushed her pupils towards earning medals.

Making a documentary in Iran requires a lot of patience and even more paperwork. Getting permits and clearances to shoot “Kick in Iran” in its titular country would be an overwhelming job even for those experienced in the processes. That being said, one of the film’s major weaknesses is its incessant need to include unnatural scenes in which the subjects perform everyday tasks or have ordinary conversations which were clearly staged and performed for the rolling camera. Examples include Khoshjamal walking into the house and checking her answering machine to find that the only message is from an adorable little girl who would like to read her a message. Another sits the athlete and her coach in a collection of bright red chairs while they have a seemingly normal conversation about training schedules. These attempts at outside style are distracting and don’t make the film any more intriguing.

In the end, “Kick in Iran” is effective as a chronicle of Khoshjamal’s journey through her first Olympic Games but examinations of bigger picture issues in Iran trickle out past the first twenty minutes. The result is a simple documentary about a female pioneer. By the film’s end, Khoshjamal’s athletic career will be well documented but the treatment of Iran and its treatment of women will be lacking any substantial weight.

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