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‘The Iran Job’

Providing new insight into the Middle East

Published: Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 23:02

The independent film “The Iran Job” follows the life of Kevin Sheppard, an American basketball player who takes a job to play for an Iranian basketball team.

The Mary B. Martin School of the Arts showed the film for free to students and the public on Monday in the Martha Street Culp Auditorium.

ETSU continues to offer showings of independent films in conjunction with the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers.

As the film begins, we see Sheppard preparing to leave his home in the U.S. Virgin Islands to travel to what is considered by many Americans to be one of the most infamous places on the globe.

Although he enjoyed success on a college team, his dreams of playing in the NBA were dashed. When international teams started calling with offers, he jumped at the chance to continue playing the sport.

Sheppard admitted that he had no idea they played basketball in Iran, but he took the job to play in the Iran Super League for a team called A.S. Shiraz based in Shiraz, southwestern Iran.

Teams in the league are only allowed two foreign players, and Iranian teams must usually offer double the compensation because many players are afraid to enter their country.

The owners of A.S. Shiraz hoped that Kevin, along with his fellow foreigner, a Serbian, would help the young team make it to the playoffs.

During his time in Iran, Kevin befriended three kind and opinionated Iranian women, who taught him to see their culture and his own culture in a new way.

His friendships with these women and with other Iranians became central to Kevin’s experience.

During the film, hilarity often ensues as both parties try to cross language and cultural barriers.

Till Schauder and Sara Nodjoumi, spouses and filmmakers, produced “The Iran Job.”

Although he faced weather delays, director and cinematographer Schauder arrived at Monday’s event on time and answered audience questions after the showing. He explained that his wife is Iranian and that they both became interested in the subject when they heard about Americans traveling to Iran to play basketball.

They searched for about a year for an ideal subject to follow, a “character” who could lead their story.

They were close to abandoning their project when they met Kevin via Skype.

Schauder said they “were sold after 20 seconds.”

Of the women, Schauder said, “It wasn’t just about the filming itself. It was also once we were editing and it became clear how essential they became to the film, it was very much about sharing the process with them.”

He was open about the challenges of filming in Iran. From previous trips to Iran he  said he knew that the Iranian people were great, but he could not forget the stories he had heard about journalists’ arrest and imprisonment.

“When I first entered, I was very scared … but somehow I lost that within a day or so. I lost all my caution.”

Schauder found himself in a few “dicey” situations, but managed to escape serious consequences by pretending to merely be a tourist.

For the three women involved in the film, only one of whom remains in Iran, “there were real consequences,” he said.

Schauder said he was sure to give them a chance to approve or disapprove of the footage, and they surprised him by readily giving him their blessing. He promised them to not officially show the film in Iran.

He also discussed the discrepancy between the perception and the reality of a place, whether the United States or Iran.

 “It’s a very, in my experience, a very soulful place. I always think that that type of heritage and culture somehow seeps in the ground and it stays with the people there. They’re remarkable and they know how to live a good life in spite of everything.”

 “A lot of the audiences that I’ve faced, they are just shell-shocked by the fact that I went there … and then when you go and you meet these people it’s just not at all what you expected.”

“The Iran Job” is an eye-opening, humorous, and authentic film that leaves viewers — whether they are familiar with Iran or only associate the country with the “axis of evil” — with a more accurate perspective.

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