Magazine article Screen International

The Iran Job

Magazine article Screen International

The Iran Job

Article excerpt

Dir: Till Schauder. Germany-Iran-US. 2012. 93mins

The Iran Job follows an African-American who can't make the NBA, but ends up heading a motley professional team in Shiraz, Iran. Missteps on his improbable journey into the Axis of Evil offer some laughs, and even some wisdom.

The Iran Job skirts some basic questions, like why basketball, imported from imperialist nations, has flourished in the Islamic state.

This lively documentary breaks no new ground cinematically, yet its mix of discovery and befuddlement should bring more than sports fans to a basketball story. The Iran Job will be a novelty at festivals and theatrically, but its largest public will be on sports cable. Basketball is now a global sport, and the film can exploit the NBA's vast exposure in Europe and Asia. It is sure to be pirated widely in Iran.

What it won't do is revive the basketball career of Kevin Sheppard, although he shows acting potential.

In Sheppard, the filmmakers found a character whose personality takes him beyond the sports template in this tale of a journeyman player's "hoop dreams" gone awry. Gregarious, overbearing and photogenic, Sheppard is also thoughtful, making his first-person account of misadventures in Iran an unexpected delight.

German-American director Till Schauder follows the young man who called his host country "eye-RANN" into unknown territory, the southeastern city of Shiraz. The film lacks the polish of higher budget sports docs, yet it captures beguiling details that couldn't be farther from St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, Sheppard's home. And it conveys Iran's brief 2009 electoral optimism, when candidates criticised the Iranian government openly, only to lose in a disputed vote, as police bludgeoned protesters in the streets.

In a parallel course, Schauder tracks Kevin inspiring the proverbial team that couldn't shoot straight, taking them to a shot at the country's championship. A seven-foot Serbian teammate adds comedy to the cartoonish ensemble. The seductive groove of Iranian rap music during game sequences (Shahin Najafi, Jaduguaran, ZedBazi) stresses the pull of US hip-hop culture on Iranian youth.

Love and politics take Schauder's film beyond the obvious. The plot transcends a predictable fish-out-of-water travelogue when Kevin (with a girlfriend at home) meets glamorous Elaheh, who dreams of being an actress, with a more achievable (yet discreet) ambition of marrying a foreign basketball player. …

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