In the doc ‘752 is not a number’, Payami seeks to humanize the victims of a tragedy


TORONTO – In the 32 months since Iranian authorities shot down flight PS752, Hamed Esmaeilion has not had a chance to mourn his wife and daughter.

Instead, he has spent the past two and a half years fighting for justice for his family and others on board, a grueling process captured in the documentary ‘752 Is Not A Number’. , which will premiere at this year’s edition of the Toronto International Film Festival.

“There is no time for mourning,” Esmaeilion said in an interview ahead of the festival. “From the start, I was committed to the fight for truth and justice. And you see I never gave up.

Filmmaker Babak Payami immersed himself in the world of Esmaeilion, traveling with him to Iran to recover his family’s bodies and belongings. He accompanied him as he lobbied the Canadian government to take a more active role in the accident investigation and fought for the International Civil Aviation Organization to condemn Iran’s actions.

« I got so preoccupied with the technicalities and details that I can practically imagine sitting in one of these missile launchers and familiarizing myself with the dashboard. That’s how far I went. in depth,” Payami said.

« But at some point I realized that was not what this film was about. This film is about the pain, devastation and struggle of human beings whose lives have been shattered.

There were 176 people on board when the Ukrainian International Airlines flight crashed on January 8, 2020, and nearly 140 of them had ties to Canada.

That included 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents, making it the second-worst air disaster to affect Canadians, after only the Air India bombings in 1985, Payami said. In this case, a bomb hidden in luggage tore up Flight 182 en route to New Delhi, killing all 329 people on board, most of them Canadians of Indian origin.

But Payami said he hoped « 752 is not a number » would help solve the problem for the families of the PS752 victims, which was not the case for the relatives of those on board Flight 182.

“It took 20 years before the Prime Minister spoke to families,” Payami said, referring to the 2010 apology by then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper after a damning report was released. a commission of inquiry.

“The victims of Air India were treated like strangers in their time. And we wanted to make sure that didn’t happen, and we communicate to the world outside the Iranian community the depth of this devastation. »

While « justice » may not be possible for the families – « because it will never bring their loved ones back », he said – redressing the toll might be.

Canadian officials took a more active role following the downing of PS752. But Payami and Esmaeilion argue that the government’s participation in a system that allowed Iran to investigate its own military’s wrongdoings prevented the families from getting real answers.

Immediately after, bulldozers drove to the crash site and took away evidence, Payami noted.

“Meanwhile, what is Canada doing? he said. « We’re not going to ask why you razed the place? » Why did you destroy the evidence?

For his part, Esmaeilion said he would continue to fight for those answers.

“Until that day when we find out what exactly happened, what exactly happened on the morning of January 8, we cannot give up,” he said.

« We have to go on and use all our power. »

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 11, 2022.


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