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Promoting A Middle Eastern Movie to the US Market

One of the most famous poets from the Middle East was Omar Khayyam, a Persian astronomer and mathematician whose work, known as the Rubaiyat, has been translated into every major language. The story of Omar Khayyam has now been brought to the big screen by a first-time filmmaker and Iranian immigrant in Houston, Texas.

This is the moment of triumph for Kayvan Mashayekh, who came to the United States from Iran with his family at the age of 11. This former Houston attorney took film courses in New York and then spent the past seven years putting this project together.

His movie is called "The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam." He shot it in Uzbekistan and Europe, as well as Houston, and its story moves back and forth in time between the 11th century and present day.

The Keeper, of the title, is an Iranian immigrant dying of cancer in a Houston hospital. He inherited the responsibility of keeping alive his family's oral history of Omar Khayyam, a task he passes on to his younger brother.

The story presents a loving portrait of a Middle Eastern family that American audiences seldom see in movies. But horrific events almost dashed Kayvan Mashayekh's dream of bringing this story to the screen. He recalls, "When those two planes hit the World Trade Center back on September 11, 2001, it also devastated people of Middle Eastern ethnicity as well, who lived in America."

The turmoil caused by the September 11 attacks drove investors away from the project, but Kayvan Mashayekh persisted, drawing on the inspiration that came to him the first time he read Omar Khayyam's words.

The message influenced Kayvan so much that he pursued bringing the message to the screen. "I immediately was taken by the message and the purity of the philosophy of this great man who is a part of Persian history, who was able to balance reason with faith, and also was able to have an equilibrium between science and poetry."

(movie soundtrack)
Your excellency, may I present Omar Khayyam, the mathematician and astronomer."

Kayvan says it is this view of the Islamic world that people need to see in order to counter the negative images they see in news reports. Some who saw the film here in Houston agreed that the film could benefit people who are open to its message.

After seeing the movie, this man said, "I think it depends on what they bring to the debate. Those people who have their minds open might learn something, those whose minds are already closed will not learn anything from it."

Some Iranian-Americans say they also can learn something from the movie.

This woman had this remark about the movie. "It was part of our tradition and culture that we were not really aware of and, to me, this really does tell a great story, that we need to continue on and then I think the American population needs to know more about."

Kayvan Mashayekh hopes his cinematic story that champions reason over fanaticism as well as the value of cultural tradition will have such an impact. "A movie can only do one thing, it can provide an opportunity for people to think and to feel, to reflect, you know, to do something positive, and if this film can achieve that, it would be an enormous success," he said.

"The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam" is in limited engagements in several U.S. cities now and will soon go into international distribution.