Yavar Moghimi, psychiatrist and film editor

Yavar Moghimi (center) is a psychiatrist and film editor.

Growing up as a second generation Iranian-American in the Washington, DC area, fellow Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma participant Yavar Moghimi often received suggestions from his parents about his career options.

The gist: if he couldn’t find anything else, he should become a doctor like his cousin, a successful plastic surgeon in Las Vegas.

A top student in high school, Yavar received a full ride to Old Dominion University, and, for a year after college, taught English to fourth through twelfth graders at a Chinese boarding school.  After finding that neither teaching nor any other field of work truly called him, he enrolled in medical school at George Washington University the following fall.

There he found psychiatry.

Yavar explains that he derives substantial and visceral pleasuring and meaning from listening to and helping people make sense of their lives. Now in the final year of his psychiatric residency, he does this work three days per week at George Washington, and one day each at a local center for trauma and torture survivors and an area community health clinic.

While Yavar predicted that his training would have him working with people, he didn’t anticipate that he would also become a filmmaker.

Along with a team of close to a dozen people, Yavar has helped edit a 16-minute film about the challenges of re-entry for many formerly incarcerated prisoners returning to their homes and families in the DC area.

We’ve written before quite extensively at the Reporter about this issue, and the film demonstrates with some poignance that the struggles of the formerly incarcerated extend far beyond Chicago.  The film focuses most closely on the difficulties these people have finding work, and Yavar explained that the team gather material about the former prisoners’ families that they did not include.

The deletion of this material came through the editing process, a part of the work that Yavar enjoys for the concrete sense of accomplishment it provides. Whereas he can end a day of treating patients unsure about what he has accomplished, editing gives him tangible evidence at the end of a session of having whittled down 40 minutes or so film to just a few minutes of the final product.

Film and psychiatry feed each other in other ways.  Yavar’s clinical work has given him material and stories for the film, while the filming and editing process has helped him think about how to receive and relate a person’s story.

If all goes well, he will be able to continue to pursue his passion for clinical work and his emerging filmmaking craft.

He is seeking a Robert Wood Johnson fellowship that would include clinical and film work, and that would focus on the difficulties asylum seekers in the United States have while going through the administrative process.

During the two weeks we spent in Orvieto, Italy we heard that these challenges can add a third level of trauma to people already coping with the forces that propelled them from their homeland and the strain of migration.

Yavar said many of his patients in this situation talk more about the present bureaucratic difficulties than the other two aspects of their trauma history.

On the verge of turning 30 and recently married to Ann, a psychologist and New Hampshire native, Yavar is poised to this distinctive and evolving fusion of clinical and documentary work.

I look forward to hearing about his grant application, and, more basically, to continuing our relationship and following his work.


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