|Kevin Sheppard in The Iran Job.|
By John Esther
After a formidable college career in basketball, Kevin Sheppard played the game for various teams outside of the United States, but nothing would prepare him for the ordeal after he was hired to play for A.S. Shiraz in the land of Iran.
One of two non-Iranian players on the team (the other, his roommate, is Serbian), Sheppard feels like an outcast. He does not speak Farsi and his coach does not speak English. And the team is a lot worse than anything he has played with in a long time. His girlfriend is back in the States and people do not celebrate the same holidays here. However, the coach, the players and the fans have great expectations for the expansion team to do what no Iranian basketball expansion team in the league has ever done: make it to the playoffs.
As we watch Sheppard transform his team on the court toward success, the documentary captures Sheppard transforming into a real man off the court. Sure, Sheppard is charming and gregarious, but when he first arrived in Iran he was not exactly culturally sensitive to the country. For example, he thinks it clever to repeatedly refer to a Persian man as Saddam – as in Saddam Hussein, the ex-Iraqi dictator, who was Arabic (and there was that 1980s war between Iran and Iraq after Iran was invaded by Iraq -- with US government approval). But set against some of the recent political uprisings, Sheppard sees that these are people, often young people his age, living in a country under a very harsh government, who are oppressed in a country the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the U.S. could annihilate if need be.
Bristling with charm, fun and insight, director Till Schauder's The Iran Job works as a rare breed of cinema: a documentary featuring sports with some political currency.
The Iran Job screens at the Los Angeles Film Festival tonight, 7:10, Virgin America Theatre; June 17, 6:50 p.m. Regal Cinemas; June 24, 3:30 p.m., Regal Cinemas.