My Friend Shokat

By Bita Ghassemi | Drama
A Persian-American boy tries to save his pet goat from being eaten.

Amir is a young Persian-American boy who loves his goat Shokat, who lives in the yard of their home. But when Shokat stops producing as much milk as she used to, his sister tells Amir some bad news: it’s too expensive to keep feeding Shokat, and they may have to use the animal for her meat instead.

Amir then sets about trying to save his beloved goat. Using the logic of childhood, he tries to buy her some milk to drink, with the reasoning that she’ll make more of it as a result. But with limited resources, he faces indifference and hostility in his task, along with some kindness and even love — but it may not be enough to save the family goat.

Written and directed by Bita Ghassemi, this short family drama has the directness and bluntness of children who have yet to understand the full rules, consequences and ramifications of the world around them. Its storytelling develops with an elemental simplicity and clarity, ending with an initiation into the sometimes bitter, complicated realities of life.

The visuals have both a poetic sweep and a workaday ambiance, capturing both the humble circumstances of Amir and his family and the innocent enchantment of childhood, where a sweet-natured goat can be your best friend and companion. But we infer Amir’s affection for Shokat is also driven by the challenges of home: his mother works late and struggles financially, while his older sister (and surrogate parental figure) just wants to have some space and freedom to be young. For Amir, Shokat is the solid center of his small world.

When his sister levels with Shokat’s possible fate, Amir sets off into the world at large to save the goat. Here, the writing reveals both sharp humanistic observation and sly deadpan humor, as Amir clumsily entreats people in his community to help him. His attempts are charming and sweet, and the reactions to him range from hilariously dry to heartwarming, forming a fascinating collective portrait of how the world at large responds to pleas for help.

Young actor Conagher Worland is plaintive and appealing as Amir, and as his sister, actor Sam Manesh captures the wariness of being a parental figure well before being ready to shoulder that responsibility. Her affection and frustration with her little brother are palpable, as is her desire to be free of the weight of it all, even for a few hours. But when she realizes just how attached Amir is to Shokat, she must set out to find him, and figure out how to buffer him from the difficult truth.

Based on true events, “My Friend Shokat” is about innocence lost in the face of the difficult exigencies of everyday life, with a tone that deftly blends sweetness with understated irony. It’s also about a family that has to navigates these difficulties — as well as the strangeness of being a different culture in the U.S. — in the best way they can, often on their own. Brother and sister may come together over Shokat’s fate, but that fate is still inevitable, in all its sometimes harsh reality.

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