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TED Fellows names a hero: Taghi Amirani

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Senior Fellow Taghi Amirani receives the first-ever TED Fellow Hero award from Tom Rielly on the Fellows Talk stage.

Senior Fellow Taghi Amirani receives the first-ever TED Fellow Hero award from Tom Rielly on the Fellows Talk stage. Photo: Ryan Lash

Monday on the TED Fellows stage, Tom Rielly did something unprecedented in the history of the Fellows — he singled out one for recognition. Presenting the newly minted TED Fellows Hero award to Iranian-British filmmaker Taghi Amirani, he said, “This person has gone above and beyond in writing, participating, a certain amount of kvetching, mentoring younger fellows, convening Fellows retreats, offering his apartment, and taking them out for the best Persian food. He offers the yarn that helps knit the community together.”

Amirani, a Senior Fellow¬†who is currently working on mounting his first feature film, Coup 53 — the true story of the CIA coup staged in Iran in 1953 — was shocked into uncharacteristic speechlessness. He managed only to croak, “This is a mind f***!” We caught up with him shortly after the session to see whether he’d recovered.

Any words yet?

I am so embarrassed that I didn’t express my gratitude or the depth of my appreciation, or even express my surprise in an eloquent way, for someone who apparently talks a hell of a lot. I don’t even know what Tom said or I said. I was sitting there thinking, “What the hell? It was the craziest kept secret ever.” I’m still shaking, and this probably happened 45 minutes ago. My knees are still wobbly.

The totally unexpected honor Tom and the TED Fellows bestowed on me and the love they so generously showered me with deserves a more eloquent and thoughtful response than the clumsy tongue-tied gibberish I blurted out. So let me say this:

Tom has been a real friend, mentor and even a father figure, a creative and emotional inspiration right from day one. It’s just one of those moments when you meet a group of people, I think it was February 2009, that I just acquired this unbelievable extended family of friends. Ultimately, the most important thing for me is the people — friendships that I know will last beyond any TED conference. As a filmmaker, my source of inspiration, the raw material of my craft, if you will, is people — their stories, hearts and minds. It’s the human relationships that I find incredibly enriching amongst the Fellows, people who have given me more than they can ever imagine. If they have seen any spark in me it’s because they have been the catalyst.

At the risk of this sounding like one of those excruciatingly cheesy and awkward acceptance speeches, let me express my deep debt of gratitude to the TED Fellowship team: the big-hearted Tom Rielly, the beautiful and super-smart Logan McClure, the lovely Sam Kelly and Corey Mohr, the calm and stylish Emeka Okafor, and the soon to be totally amazing friends Shoham Arad and Patrick D’Arcy. And of course to you, Karen, for editing our words to make sense.

One last word: becoming a TED Fellow made me think big and reach beyond myself. Even though I’ve made some 40 documentaries, making my first feature is like starting from scratch. A daunting prospect. When the super challenging Iranian coup movie project finally gets the backing and support and makes it onto the screens, it will be almost entirely because of the doors the TED Fellowship is beginning to open.

Fellow Fellows chimed in on the roast. Here’s what they had to say:

“If only everyone brought as much exuberance, intensity and joy to life as Taghi does, we’d live in a different world.” — Erik Hersman

“Taghi is like a cross between Picasso and a Jewish grandmother–his films are ambitious and brave, taking on hugely important political subjects, and he is the consummate host–who will nag you to try everything on your plate while throwing in a witty, eye-rolling joke or two.” — Nassim Aseffi

“Taghi has made my world a better place with his revealing and affectionate films, his whip-smart quick wit, his sexy photos of breakfast, and his under-rated dance moves. There’s a reason why he always looks like he’s got something up his sleeve.” — Candy Chang

“Taghi emanates everything delightful and delicious about the energy of the TED Fellows program, but he also listens. Though serious about his work, he also can take the piss out of it. He’s contemplative but still playful. He’s engaged, generous, humble, and OK with not knowing.” — Jessica Green