'Rosewater' Director Jon Stewart Reflects on the Power of Social Media in Politics

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Jon Stewart’s directorial debut Rosewater is a political tale very much of its time. It tells the true story of Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari who was imprisoned in Tehran in part for a segment he appeared in on The Daily Show and during a crackdown that occurred during a social media-fuelled wave of protests after the 2009 Iranian elections.

“I think social media is expediting these movements. These social, non-violent resistance moments all around the world,” Bahari tells Fandor. “Because social media is about sharing information, sharing data. And sharing information and sharing data is a democratizing factor, and for authoritarians it’s a scary phenomenon. They are scared of the free-flow of information.”

Stewart, however, tempers that argument by putting the power of social media in context. “I think it’s also important to try and view it through its strengths and its limitations. It’s an excellent tool for people to organize, to gather, to spread information,” he says. “That being said, it’s limited in its efficacy in terms of building the types of lasting, civic institutions and structures that need to be in place for those information technologies to be effective. It’s not just about getting people out into the street. Then you have to have something that’s going to fill that power vacuum or whatever is that you want to use as your reform.”

As for Rosewater itself, as a director, Stewart was only interested in one thing: getting to the crux of the story as effectively as possible. “As far as the visualizations of it, the intention was to create a palette that the story could live in without the palette itself drawing your eye,” he says. “In other words, the prison was not to be a dungeon, even though I think the expectations from many Westerners would be that he was underground with no lights and rats running around.”

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