The Three Hikers

The Three Hikers is a documentary about the three Americans hikers, Joshua Fattal, Sarah Shourd and Shane Bauer (Sarah and Shane are a couple) who were arrested in Iran for entering illegally the country.

The documentary starts by giving us a brief introduction about three young Americans, which goes like this: Three good kids who are interested in international relations, travelling and helping through NGO, teaching or a more journalistic approach. 

They were travelling for a week-long holiday in « the other Iraq », in the Kurdistan part of the region, that shares a border with Iran. They decide to go hiking but somehow loose the hold of their trail. That is when they mistakenly enter the Iran territory and everything goes downhill from there as they get arrested and imprisoned.

The documentary approaches the subject in a very humanistic approach. We understand the horror of the situation through recollection of the pictures they took during their trip, they are happy, they are on holidays, having a good time, but in a fraction of time, they are put into tiny cells and taken hostage of a bigger political context.

We meet their family and live the entire process with them, from the shock of the news, but also, and that’s the most interesting part, their willingness to act, to help any ways they can. It is very interesting to see the transition from a regular family with regular jobs into spokespersons, organizing demonstrations in order to make the release of their kids/siblings, a national priority. Not to mention the inextricable complexity of the political situation, all ties between Iran and the United States having been cut since 1979.

Many questions arise: Who could be the most suited representative to negotiate their releases? Those interlocutors are, in fact, a mix of different representatives through time, the Swiss ambassador, The sultan of Oman mainly but also other supports from Muhammad Ali, Sean Penn or Ban Ki Moon.

The documentary depicts well the terribly slow passing of time in the cells, the boredom (especially for Sarah, being the only woman, that is alone in her cell while the two others are at least together). It depicts how such a situation changes all family dynamics because now their families in the US are revolving entirely around their kids arrest and how to organize better, how to make people and the media talk about it, how to be seen. The ones that are left are in prison too, a different one, yes, but a prison never the less. They are awaiting answers, awaiting letters form the hostages, their entire life has been taken over, their ties to each others are weakened, no more daily routine, it is about doing as much as possible, raising money to continue the mobilization, surviving on hope.

The mothers are allowed to go to Iran and meet their children, after months of anxiety and disruptive communication. We share their joy as they reunite and their suffering when it is time to say goodbye.

Sarah is the first one to be released, after 14 months in detention and very actively seeks the release of her friends. She becomes the most represented in the media and the new, unified, face of the campaign; she has the legitimacy of having been one of them. The different tactics used to continue a dialogue with Iran are well depicted in the movie.


The trials for the two remaining hostages in Iran starts and they are charged with espionage. Ironically this charge is reinforced after Shane admits he was covering American wrong doings in the Middle East.

Eventually after more than two years, hundreds of protests, media coverage, talk shows, marches, many negotiations, ups and downs, delayed information and over two years of imprisonment, Shane and Joshua are released to the Sultan Oman.

The documentary is very well done; the recollections of the visuals are impressive, even the reconstitutions that can sometimes appear cheap are done in a way that adds interesting visuals to voice-overs. The different relationships in terms of politics between the actors in this crisis are also well depicted.

A few critics (in my opinion) are: the emphasis on the emotional instead of the political. There were a lot of interviews and shots of the families going though anxiety /fear/ despair and some were not needed, it would have been interesting to have more insights into what it is like to suddenly become the face and spokesperson of an international complex situations, how do you start ? how do you prepare for interviews and the media madness ? Did they have to study the subject deeply to avoid any misconceptions that could hurt their case?

Some events were not explained well in terms of the underlying’s interests or politics. For example, why would Iran allow their « prisoners » to meet with their mothers (and in a hotel)? What is the underlying motive?

Another thing is the very happy ending; it would have been interesting to deal, even lightly, with the possible traumatisms and how prison affected their lives (especially in the case of Sarah that is release a year before the others and becomes a main figure of the campaign).

All in all, I would recommend this documentary, it is enjoyable, interesting and gives you some insights into complex international relations and diplomacy.

Note: These ratings and review are personal opinion of the author.