With all the news coming out of the Middle East and tensions spurred on by the film Innocence of Muslims, we need ways to bridge the cultural gap and recognize the actual, everyday people involved. The documentary film The Iran Job is coming to a theater near you on Friday, September 28th through October 4th and it seeks to do just that. An added bonus is that it’s entertaining, poignant, funny and about a really charming basketball player.
The Iran Job is a documentary film that tells the story of American basketball player Kevin Sheppard as he travels to Iran to play for the Iranian Super League. The film is as much a cultural dialogue as it is a basketball story. Kevin breaks through his preconceived notions about the Iranian people, leads his team to the playoffs and witnesses the Green Movement unfold in Iran. He becomes friends with three single women. The time they spend together is risky for the women. We are lucky they took the risk because the conversation between Kevin and these women really brings depth to the film. On the court, we see the pressure Kevin’s under to lead a young team. Off the court, Kevin’s open nature, sense of humor and natural curiosity help him navigate while he’s in Iran. He spoke with me about how the time he spent in Iran changed him. He came back home and started a league for underprivileged boys called Choices Basketball Association. He’s “pushing very hard to make a difference in his community.”
Filmmakers Till Schauder and Sara Nodjoumi have created a film that’s also entertaining and engaging. Till and Kevin both talked about traveling the hero’s journey through sports and how athletes can break down stigmas and perceptions that have built up. Kevin shared about the difference in the two cultures in sports.
“In our culture, there’s one thing and one thing only and that’s winning. If you lose by 50 or if you lose by 1, it doesn’t matter. Once I got over there, I realized they thought it’s okay to play hard and good and lose. So we were clashing hard there. I thought that I have to learn from them obviously to see why they think this way. But then I have to show the way I think, the way I play and inspire them. Which we did during the regular season and overcame a lot of obstacles.”
Through email, I interviewed two of the women from the film, Laleh and Hilda. When I asked them about the Green Movement and what it means to be political active as a woman in Iran, Laleh had this to say,
“Well to be honest I had never been politically active but regarding all pressures and interference of extremists and their insistence to dictate the life style and specific ideology, when a person wants to live his/her own life style and express his/her ideas he/she is considered as opposite and even politically active. But the answer to your question is “NO” but I just wanted to live my life in my own selected way not a dictated one from anybody. And about my arrest [Laleh was arrested three times for her activities] as I mentioned , I was protesting to take a part in a movement that could have resulted in more freedom and better social situation in which everybody (including me) would choose their own life style, I wanted to be a part of people who are seeking their rights and freedom and I don’t consider that a political activity.”
I love this answer because it takes my American notion of political activity and shakes it upside down. I protested in college to keep abortion rights in place and discovered that I liked the leadership role and the feeling of community and even, doing something extreme based on my beliefs. I became political action girl decked out with a camera, notebook, bullhorn and clothes suitable for sleep, marching or arrest. I wore political action like a badge in some ways even though my beliefs were pure and passionate. I like that Laleh won’t label what she did. Maybe that’s a safety mechanism, I don’t know. Is a movement for freedom necessarily political? That’s the question Laleh pushes me to ask.
And you’ll love Laleh and the other women in the film. Hilda is smart and seeking some education in the UK. She agreed to be part of The Iran Job because she wanted to show there is more to the Iranian people than just the stereotypes.
Politics, Iran, Basketball and Feminism. All in one film. It’s definitely worth the price of admission. The director, Till Schauder will be in attendance for most weekend shows and is available for Q&A’s after some screenings. [There's also some Oscar buzz!]
If you’re intrigued by the project but won’t make it to the theater, you can check out their Kickstarter campaign and help make sure the film is seen in theaters across the US.
I interviewed husband and wife filmmakers Till Schauder and Sara Nodjoumi. Click here to learn how they handled working and parenting together, the time Till was detained in Iran and the sneaky method they employed for making sure the film got out of Iran safely.