"THE IRAN JOB" screened at the Los Angeles Fesdtival
The Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF, June 14 - 24) is mounted and presented by FilmIndependent, an organization dedicated to the promotion of independent films by new and upcoming filmmakers and talent. The programs are not studded with the names of iconic directors or well known stars but are more oriented toward intruducing the talent of tomorrow. However, as a nod to the main industry the opening film was the latest by Woody Allen (76) "To Rome With Love", and this year's LAFF official guest director is William Friedkin (74), an "iconoclastic filmmaker with a fiercely independent spirit" and the author of two ground breaking Hollywood monuments of the seventies, "The Exorcist" and "The French Connection". Friedkin films are few and far between these days, but when they come the come with a punch. His newest work "Killer Joe" starring Mathew McConaughey in an uncharactersitic role as a dirty cop was presented "off campus" at the LA County Museum (LACC) with Mr. Friedkin in attendance to introduce the film.
A number of the films on hand are hand-me-downs from Sundance but most are premiers with an interesting documentary competition and an international showcase backing up the bulk of new American indies. This being said, the eye-opener of the first weekend of the fest was a feature length documentary entitled "The Iran Job" made by German-American director Till Schauder and produced by his Iranian-American wife Sara Nodjoumi. On the surface this is the story of a year in the life of an Afro-American basketball player recruited to revitalize a second rate Basketball tream in Iran and get them into the playoffs -- but it soons becomes evident that the sports story is merely the framework for a slam-dunk penetration into the paint of society in the Islamic Republic described by President Bush as part of an Axis of Evil.
In 2008, the crucial political year in which Obama became presiden, Kevin Sheppard signed up to play in Iran. His fiends all advised against such a move but Kevin felt he wanted to try something completely new so he signed a year contract to play in Iran. Soon after his arrival he realizes that politics is a touchy if not dangerous subject in Iran so he resolves to steer clear as much as possible. His relations with colleagues and other friends soon enmesh him whether he likes it or not and the whole film becomes one revelation after another of the extent to which average people resent the repressions forced upon them by the fundamentalist Islamic Government. All this set against news clips from CNN regarding the edgy tension between the USA and Iran.
Only seconds into the film we get a clip of President George Bush to set the mood: Says Bush: "The notion that the US is about to attack Iran is ridiculous ... However, all options are on the table (Audience chuckle). This is followed by a clip of president Ahmedinajad of Iran ranting against Israel and calling for its extermination. The riposte to this is a clip of Hilary Clinton, then a potential presidential candidate, saying: "If Iran attacks Israel we will attack Iran -- and we have the means to obliterate ...!" -- In all exterior shots Schauders roving camera picks up gigantic images of Khomeini and the Ayatolas looking down from walls all over the city. No commentary, but those who know Iran know that this is the Big Brotherhood watching over everyone all the time.
It is obvious that the average Iranian is favorably disposed toward Americans on the personal level but one of the first images we see is a wall with a sign saying "Down with USA". The party line and the personal line are in constant clash -- Kevin is convinced that Iranians especially like Black Americans, but when people expect him to be especially supportive of newly elected president Obama on the basis of color, he takes a Wait and See attitude. His doctor says now you have a black president and its your turn-- "You need a black house instead of a White House" -- a joke that Kevin takes with a grain of salt.
Along the way Kevin does help the weak Shiraz team make the playoffs but this is incidental to his relationship with three young women who befriend him and, with disarming candor, reveal their dissatisfaction with the regime. Hilda is his assigned physiotherpaist but soon becomes his confidante outside of work. Laleh, a friend of hers is a throroughly outspoken critic of the regime and will later be arrested. Elaheh, Kevin's self assigned driver, is strikingly beautiful, wants to be a movie star and looks every bit the part. All speak good English but need help with words like "pissed off". As for the wearing of head scarves, all agree that everyone hates it but have to go along with it because of the law. It is illegal for women to visit mens apartments, illegal for women to travel in cars with men who are not husbands or close family, illegal for men and women to sit in the same stands at a basketball game(!) --at one point women are banned from sports attendance altogether -- it is more and more obvious that the average people, especially the female population, are not very happy to be living in an open air religious prison.
The peak of religious fervor comes during the celebration of the Martyrdom of Husein, grandson of the Holy Prophet. Out on the seething streets with his friends, Kevin asks why they are celebrating all this with mourning --wouldnt it be better to celebrate the Life of Husein rather than his death -- the kind of question one does not ask in this rigidly religious society. The tension mounts until the 2009 election where popular liberal candidate Mousavi speaks out against the oppressive regime but is "defeated" in a rigged election. As the film ends it looks like things can only get worse. Neda, a women protester killed is a new martyr. Laleh has been arrested. The only ray of hope, maybe -- is that beautiful Elaheh has been given permission by her father to move to Teheran and perhaps pursue her movie star dreams.
We are informed by end titles that Kevin went back for two more seasons of basketball in Iran, but there is not likely to be a sequel to his story. Director Schauder was blacklisted and very lucky to get out of Iran alive with enough smuggled footage to put together this remarkable film. If a regime change ever does come there "The Iran Job" will undoubtedly become an Iranian liberation classic.
Meanwhile the filmmakers are trying to drum up the funding needed to get "The Iran Job" as widely seen as it needs to be, to help clear the currently muddled air between the US and Iran. One of the director's stated purposes is not so much to dramatize the politics of Iran as to show Iranian people in a more human light so that they are not demonized along with their government. Among those adding their clout to this process is Christiane Amanpour, ace news anchor for ABC and CNN. and a war correspondent who has been covering events in Iran since 1985.
"The Iran Job" will have an added screening on the last day of the festival here to accommodate popular demand -- good --the more who see it the merrier and better for all!
TV reporter (CNN, correspondent) Christiane Amanpour graciously co-hosted a fundraiser. Gloria Steinem noted the film’s unexpected nexus of male sports and women’s rights – for while THE IRAN JOB is about men's basketball, above all it gives voice to three very brave Iranian women. And THE IRAN JOB features some of the most cutting-edge Iranian rap and hip-hop, including such artists as Shahin Najafi, Jadugaran, ZedBazi, and A2.
By Alex Deleon for <filmfestivals.com>