Hot Docs 2024: ‘A Band of Dreamers and a Judge’ Uncovers Humanity Amidst the Shadows of Illegality

5 June 2024 / by Olivia Zhong
A Band of Dreamers and a Judge
Hot Docs 2024: ‘A Band of Dreamers and a Judge’ Uncovers Humanity Amidst the Shadows of Illegality
Director Hesam Eslami carefully explores the complexities of human motivation amidst illegal pursuits.


How do you make a world-premiering documentary on illegal activity? Well, you focus on its humanity. In A Band of Dreamers and a Judge directed by Hesam Eslami, the narrative unfolds around a group of treasure hunters in northern Iran, driven by dreams of uncovering pre-Islamic relics. Under the cover of darkness, they risk their freedom to excavate illegally. A practical judge and her officers tirelessly pursue these treasure hunters, aiming to uphold the law and preserve cultural heritage. As tensions rise between those seeking riches and those enforcing justice, A Band of Dreamers and a Judge delves into the human motivations behind these actions, shedding light on the complexities of their pursuit amidst the shadows of legality.


Viewers quickly learn that striking treasures is no easy task, and our four protagonists spend their time more as dreamers than treasure hunters. Yet, it’s the endearing personalities and seamless camaraderie of this group of men that swiftly captivate our hearts – think of the team in Ghostbusters (1984). Eslami immerses us within the group’s inner workings, so much so, that the judge suspects his involvement in their digging.


The film brims with footage capturing the meticulous planning and execution of the men’s heist. Their eagerness and nervous anticipation radiate through the screen, as their aspirations for gold seem just out of arm’s reach. The hot nighttime air increases with tension as the men quietly excavate their chosen site, with only a flashlight illuminating their surroundings. As the camera pans to the side of the mountain, revealing a cliff and a distant, illuminated city, the gravity of their risky pursuit is intensified.


While these Indiana Jones-esque scenes are the basis of the film, Eslami takes viewers into the lives and laws of ordinary Iranians grappling with the ongoing economic crisis in the country. One group member becomes a father, while another member loses their own. It is the personal stories here that shape the film into a rich tapestry of human experience blended into the thrilling heist. By the end of the film, viewers feel as if they’re part of the journey, experiencing the rollercoaster of love and loss. 


On the judicial side of this story, Eslami shares the narrow line between hunters and the law in Iran during the Q&A session post-premiere. While it is illegal to dig for pre-Islamic relics according to civil law, it is halal by Islamic law. Therefore it creates a delicate bridge many Iranians are brave to cross. As a matter of fact, treasure hunters don’t label themselves as criminals, but rather, archeologists. Eslami suggests some police officers were once treasure seekers, now retired dreamers. 


A Band of Dreamers and a Judge is a beautiful story of simple Iranians with dreams as big as their hearts. Eslami uncovers the layers of a legal crime to reveal the humanity of it all. Be ready for a film brimming with mystery, tension, love, and camaraderie, and ensure you approach the viewing with an open heart.


Click here to watch the trailer