Opening 21 Feb 2013
African-American Kevin Sheppard was born and raised in the American Virgin Islands. He successfully played basketball at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Florida. After graduation he expected to move into a professional MBA slot. That did not happen, so he turned to playing basketball professionally in South America, China and Israel. A newly formed team in the Iranian Super League offered a high salary (many athletes avoid Iran for safety or political reasons, so that money must be the attraction); teams are limited to two foreign players. Kevin said good-bye to his long-term girlfriend and moved to Shiraz, Iran. He shared an apartment with the other foreign player, Zoran (called “Z”) from Serbia. Their first impression was, “There are 600 TV channels and 400 of them are porno!”
The film follows this new team through 24 games with the top eight eligible for the playoffs. We see tense moments on the playing court with Kevin adding both moral and physical support. He welcomes three Iranian women in his apartment and visits one of them in her family’s wealthy home. He socializes with the Iranian team without speaking one word of Farsi. He organizes a Christmas tree (with a copy of the Koran under the tree) and learns about Iranian holidays. Politics are ever present: the girls discuss women’s rights; the revolution begins and people put on green arm bands. President Bush preaches the Axis of Evil and friends ask Kevin what he thinks about a black “brother” in the White House. He says, “It’s the Black House – a black house for a black president, but basically we are all the same.” Zoran reminds us that the U.S. bombed Serbia.
Director Till Schauder was thrilled to discover a basketball star with such charisma and sense of humor. This project, which was scheduled to last a year, finally wrapped after five years, but as Till says, “I started it in 2008, only to realize that it is just as pertinent now, five years later.” The main difficulties were caused by the strained relationship between the U.S. and Iran. The U.S. does not allow citizens to earn money in Iran. This includes basketball players, a fact which did not faze happy-go-lucky Kevin. American citizens, and especially journalists, cannot travel freely to Iran. Germany, on the other hand, has a more relaxed attitude. This is where Schauder’s German nationality came into play. Born in Seattle, he grew up in Göttingen. He studied acting and film in Munich and later in Manhattan, where he lives with his Iranian wife and two children. As a dual national, he could travel on his German passport, supposedly as a tourist, but in reality as a one-man film team. To avoid over-suspicious U.S. customs officials, he sent film to his German mother, who then forwarded it to the U.S. from Germany.
This film is a great success, quite warm and uplifting, a model of how politics should work on the ground. As long as normal human beings interact, there is hope. And sure, it’s nice to see Ben Affleck savour the attention and awards from his successful film Argo which is based on a true event in Iran. But, equally important and successful is The Iran Job, a true story actually filmed in Iran. (Becky Tan)