From husband and wife filmmakers Till Schauder and Sara Nodjoumi, The Iran Job documents life overseas for a young point guard from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Kevin Sheppard, a one-time NBA hopeful who now plays basketball internationally, is called to leave his family, his girlfriend, and his home of St. Croix to join Iranian Super League team A.S.Shiraz. His journey is filmed from 2008-2009 in the shadow of a political uprising and talk from the U.S. of annihilating the nation altogether, making it dangerous and thus, twice as profitable to play there.
The story is quickly framed around Kevin being the great black hope of the dreadful team, which depends on him to earn its first shot at the playoffs. We follow his rise as a player, blazing across the court to a soundtrack of Iranian hip hop, and we also see a friendship blossom with three young women who offer him a lens into women’s rights issues in the country. It’s here that the story seems to take shape as Kevin, who typically avoids politics, is drawn in by his friends’ struggles under a regime that refuses to let them dress, live, and do as they please. Shot on the sly on the director's small HDV camera, the visuals are straightforward and rely on the appeal of the characters to keep us intrigued.
The Iran Job has a charming enough narrative, though there are a few missed opportunities when it comes to race and culture. There are cultural misunderstandings aplenty, as Kevin doesn’t speak the language and knows little about the Middle East, and the Iranians he encounters seem unfamiliar with black people beyond Bob Marley. He works hard to make everyone comfortable, joking and singing, and as a viewer I’m curious about how he feels about it all. I suppose I expected the film to take the same interest in Kevin that it does in his female comrades, giving us more of an inside look at his cultural perspective as a black man in a foreign land. Rather, it places its focus elsewhere – on basketball, on his friends – and seems to suggest that as long as everyone is well-intentioned and smiling, there’s no need to dig deeper.
In the end, the message is clear - that focusing on our similarities instead of our differences can allow for mutual appreciation and great laughs, if not ultimate understanding. The film’s use of sports to discuss Iranian issues, taking a lighter approach to a subject that could otherwise make for a grim narrative, makes it an interesting watch.
Learn more about The Iran Job at the film’s website HERE.