When the documentary “The Iran Job” premiered at LA Film Festival earlier this summer, it was met with such a warm response that the festival had to add another screening to the schedule to accommodate the demand. This was due in no small part to the winning personality of subject Kevin Sheppard, a professional basketball player from St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, hired to play on an Iranian basketball team, and the genuinely moving and topical film that director Till Schauder crafted out of one man’s journey. Our review said the film was, “a highly entertaining, moving documentary that offers a unique perspective on the country through this one man.”
We got a chance to sit down with Sheppard and Schauder in Los Angeles as they promoted the film in anticipation of its Los Angeles release at the Laemmle Music Hall and Town Center theaters on Friday, September 28th. The film will open in New York on October 12th at the IFC Center. They are hoping to distribute the film widely with the help of a Kickstarter campaign, bringing this tale of cross-cultural understanding to a larger audience in the U.S. The filmmakers discussed the similarities in documentary and fiction films, how basketball can break down cultural barriers and be a vehicle for talking about serious international issues, and the importance of humor in opening viewers up to new experiences.
Schauder described what he was looking for in a subject and what he found in Sheppard, saying, “I knew from my background as a fiction filmmaker that at the end of the day, your characters are what makes a movie. In the case of a documentary where there’s not a script, where you cannot enhance things artificially, the character becomes even more important, because you really rely on that person to create something by virtue of his personality. What I was looking for, most of all, was somebody who doesn’t censor himself.” In addition to being a natural in front of the camera, Schauder appreciated that Sheppard is “perceptive, you could see that right away, he’s smart and intelligent, and on top of that, he’s really funny and that is a great quality, especially when you’re making a film that has the potential to touch some subjects that are serious...I felt that if we can get people to laugh, it will open them up.”
Sheppard said, “When I was at home in the Virgin Islands, a lot of my friends would call me and make a lot of jokes, ‘Did you ride camels to practice today? Did you drink camel soup today?’ They would make all these ridiculous statements. I said, well maybe I should do this movie and give them an opportunity to see how I live, and maybe it will change their perception of the Iranian people, which they knew nothing about. This could be a good opportunity for them, to go on a journey with me, and hopefully I can change their minds.” In his relationship with the director, Sheppard said the good thing was that Schauder “never told me what to do, he just let me be myself, it became natural to me. I could just be myself, and sooner or later it just became invisible to me, not only to me but to all of us.”
Additionally, Sheppard commented on his ability to remain true to himself while in a foreign culture and on camera, saying, “I always have an open mind wherever I go and wherever I play. So I respect no matter what. But I always bring my culture into it too so you can have an idea of what I’m like. And I always said 'There’s no faking me,' so what you see is what you get. So that’s how I am at home, with my family, with my friends... what he [Schauder] saw in St. Croix was the same that he saw in Iran. I’m the same no matter what. But I am conscious enough to know when to go over my boundaries and when to step back.”