September 17, 2019 — When she was only one and a half years old, she was adopted by a Dutch family from an infant nursery in Tehran and brought to the Netherlands — her name is Eline Farideh Koning and she is the Iranian-Dutch character in the 2018 Iranian documentary film directed by Kourosh Ataee and Azadeh Moussavi titled “Finding Farideh.” The film is about Eline Farideh Koning search for her biological family but also for her various identities. The film is going to represent the Iranian cinema for the Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards.
In 1355 (1976), she was just a few months old when she was left and found at the holy shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad Iran. The guardian of the shrine found her there and sent her to an infant orphanage in Mashhad — she was named Farideh by the nursery caregivers there. After a few months, she was moved from Mashhad to another infant orphanage in Tehran. When she was 16 months old, she was adopted by a Dutch family. She later moved to the Netherlands with them.
Her Dutch family named her “Eline”. She now goes with the name Eline Farideh Koning. When she was a child, she heard from her family that she was not their biological child. As she grew older, she noticed differences between herself, her family and others around her.
After 37 years, she finally decided to go and find her biological family. She published an ad in a local newspaper in Mashhad called the “Khorasan Daily.” Three families came forward and she decided to go to Iran, visit them and do a DNA test to find her real family.
Farideh tried to learn Farsi and prepared herself for a long trip to Iran, until two Iranian filmmakers, Azadeh Mousavi, and Kourosh Ataee, called her and suggested to accompany her on the trip to Iran and make a documentary film about the story of her journey in Iran.
The movie “Finding Farideh” has received several awards so far. Among the most recent, it was selected as the best documentary film at the “Herat Women’s Film Festival 2019” in Kabul.
Along the way to the Oscars Academy, the film “Finding Farideh” continues it’s way successful and Iranian people are waiting to see if it will be able to bring the third Oscar for Iranian cinema?
Zamaneh recently had an interview with Eline Farideh Koning:
How did you feel for the first time when you realized that you’re originally from another country? You were very young when you first found out about it.
I guess I have always known that — maybe not conscious though, it was an unconscious feeling in the early years. It always intrigued me a lot.
Another family in the same street adopted a girl from the same orphanage in Tehran and I knew that she was like me. This happened six months after my arrival in the Netherlands, around the same time that my baby brother was born. Faranak and I became instant friends. She is in the movie doing yoga with me and saying goodbye at the airport.
How do you feel about the fact that the story of your life turned to a movie and this movie is going to Oscar Awards, as the representative of the Iranian cinema?
I feel honored, humbled and at the same time very proud.
It is truly amazing as I needed someone to take me back to Iran, and I could have not done it alone. So when Kourosh and Azadeh e-mailed me, I didn’t have to think twice to say yes. I said yes to the fact that I could finally go back to Iran and they are Iranians who wanted to take me back, that to me was a perfect move.
I was scared and excited at the same time. Scared to be in the middle of attention which is not kind of my thing, though excited to see the bigger picture of it all.
It became a healing journey for me. I was in contact with all three families before I met Kourosh and Azadehو so I definitely wanted to meet them all in Iran.
The search became a project with so many beautiful people involved. I feel grateful to be able to share my journey with the world.
When I started searchingو I was ready to go back to Iran mentally and in balance. It took me eight years to prepare for this journey… because due to my past, I had a huge black horizon in front of me, when I was around 30 years old.
I received so many lovely supporting messages from Iranians, once the movie was screening in the Art & Experience cinema’s. That filled up my heart with loving energy and acceptance of my Iranian heart with a Dutch mind.
I am so proud and happy that the families were so open to tell their stories. It is a blessing to share our pain, hurt and tears together. It is a healing for me to know they are such loving souls.
Finding Farideh received a lot of awards and now the submission to the Oscars… It is like a dream come true. Funny enough, during shooting we did joke around that the Oscar would be waiting for us…
Though perfectly happy with whatever comes, the announcement itself to me is already the biggest acknowledgment of all, I am telling myself this all the time… hahaha … Though I would love to go to sunny Los Angeles in February 2020 with my wonderful Iranian friends, aka the crew of Finding Farideh. What a blast would that be!
It is a huge acknowledgment for the entire team of Finding Farideh, and it is also a worldwide acknowledgment for all the Iranian adoptees raised abroad, and to take it further, for all adoptees in the world for that matter and all the families who are missing their child due to circumstances of the past. It is a massive complex situation at all levels.
If we open up and talk, we are able to grow and heal ourselves in the meantime.
Tell us about your experience when you traveled to Iran for the first time. How was your feeling in a country that you had never visited with a new language, new culture, and new religion? And how did you feel when for the first time you wear a scarf?
It was an explosion of new feelings. Iran was not new to me, but now I could experience Iran as an adult, standing, walking and talking which I couldn’t do in my first year.
The language has always been a sweet melody to me, it made me want to close my eyes and the sound of the words comfort me and make me feel safe. That was the memory of the language I carried in me. The culture is part of my DNA, though it was thrilling to visit Iran and realize all of this. The religion and the sound of the mosque are also part of me… I visited Egypt when I was 23 years old, this was my first time waking up next to a mosque and when I heard the calling for prayer early in the morning, it sounded so familiar to me… The sound was something I heard before. I love the sound as it gives me a bittersweet melancholic warm feeling.
I have been wearing a scarf in the Iranian embassy in the Netherlands and in Iran, I had to wear a scarf all the time. Well, I am not used to it and I usually touch my hair a lot of time and now I had to check it every 2 minutes to see whether the scarf was still where it should be. For me, it is still strange that you have to cover your hair as I love my curls. But it is also a bit symbolic to me as well because I was growing up with images of Iran seeing women wearing a scarf. So to wear the scarf was a confirmation for me that I was in Iran.
At the time that the movie was released, how was the feedback that you got from your Dutch friends and family? What was their reaction?
Well, it only has been released for a few weeks now in the Netherlands though I did show the final version to my friends and family when it was still running in cinemas in Iran. Emotional reactions and lots of hugging and tears. I am glad that everybody in the Netherlands now can finally see my journey after 4 years! I waited a long time for this.
After traveling to Iran and making a movie, did you still have an interest in knowing more about Iran and connecting with Iranians?
Yes, though I was waiting for the moment to the release of Finding Farideh, because now my world here can see it too. I would still love to travel throughout Iran and enjoy the beautiful landscapes, historical sites and meet wonderful Iranians. I would love to speak the language too in the end.
What was your experience with learning Farsi?
I started learning Persian before the journey, though I wanted to read and write as well. So I got stuck with my high goals.
Traveling with the Iranian crew (7 members!) was a totally new experience for me as they would talk Persian to each other a lot if not all the time. So I learned words as ‘bodo bodo’ [run], ‘berim’ [let’s go] and they sang so many beautiful songs together. I was amazed by their talents and voices.
Did you finally find Farideh? (I mean the real yourself who were looking for)
I definitely gained more acceptance of who I am as a person, by visiting Iran I saw resemblance in others, which is an intense feeling for me. By starting the search, I acknowledged the Farideh in me and it has grown a lot ever since.
What is your message to the Iranian when your film will be presented at the Oscars Film Festival as their representative?
I still have 5 more months to reflect on that, hahaha.
You write poetry, how do you think your Iranian heritage is relevant to this?
Very relevant, though it was my outlet to my emotions while growing up and never stopped writing. On my twitter account, there is this poem I once wrote and I still love it.
I paint a flower in my mouth, a smile in my brain and a kiss on top.
I paint words in translation, letters to heaven and ink my soul.
How did you feel when you realized none of those families are your family?
Heartbroken. Though at first, I was more concerned about their feelings than mine. I only got to my own grief two months after my journey.
Are you still hoping to find your family?
The hope is always there though in reality, we might never meet. I am telepathically sending lots of messages to my birth mother about Finding Farideh. Hoping she will catch the name in her dreams or the news one day and finds her strength to return to me. Anything is possible when you believe in magic.