The Iran Job is a documentary feature that is full to the brim of surprises. The film began under the idea of following around the American Basketball player Kevin Sheppard as he plays in the Iranian Basketball League as an import player. Sheppard had previously played the game in an entirely wide variety of locations, but none as controversial to those from the United States. In exploring this terrain, documentary filmmaker Till Schauder explores identity and culture in a way that is refreshing, thought-provoking, and intelligent. The film offers much more than an inside look at a basketball player's journey in playing a sport within a new and unfamiliar land.
The film works on multiple levels. In one way, this is clearly a documentary approaching the topic of Basketball importation and players from other countries playing in different leagues. With that topic, the film successfully explores the way an outsider feels entering a unfamiliar team, some differences in the way games are played because of differences in culture, and in approaching this topic with a clear sense of interest in the Iranian Basketball League one gets inside glances at the way the game is played in Iran and at the types of players who make up these teams. Sheppard was a gamble made by management of one relatively new team which was at the bottom of the pool and was seen as having no chance in the tournament.
As things develop between Sheppard and his new teammates, the spirit and energy of the team increases and they go from the bottom of the list of teams to actually placing within the line-up of teams competing within the main tournament. The documentary offers a glimpse at the games and the camaraderie between the players and does so in a way that sports fan will find something interesting to hold onto in viewing the documentary.
Schauder delves much deeper than basketball, though. A huge part of the film is about the time Sheppard interacts with ordinary people of Iran. Of course, there are moments where he has an incredibly clear sense of intimidation as along the roads there are gigantic signs posted with an anti-American message and there are people in Iran who hate America, which is largely a huge reason why so many Americans are afraid of Iran.
Yet this is far from being wholly representative of the nation and its people. He meets a friendly server at a restaurant who always wants to do a little jig dance with him every time they meet, and he encounters a group of individuals who want to discuss their shared interest in music. It certainly is refreshing to see such moments in the documentary. Then there's the fact that the entire team Sheppard works with is on his side and fully embraces his help and team-effort. These moments are priceless and offer a good counter-balance of their own to news footage, including such clips as Bush saying something along the lines of 'there are no plans to use nuclear destruction against Iran. This is not planned. However, that isn't to say it isn't on the table', and Hillary Clinton suggesting that the United States would 'annihilate' Iran if it came down to it. With these sorts of hostilities existing between the US and Iran, there are clearly a number of ways in which both countries present an image of not understanding the other in any way shape or form. Yet this is, of course, not entirely indicative of how everyone in either nation feels.
So to see the friendliness of Sheppard to the people of Iran and the similarly nice responses he receives back throughout the documentary from Iranian people... these are important moments that show the humane and diverse nature of the world - of the diversity of people and of the importance of remembering the normalcy of many in Iran, so that a better relationship and understanding between the United States and Iran can be formed.
The film cements the positive and more encompassing nature of its views with the central focus upon a group of three women who befriend Sheppard. At a clinic for those involved in Sports, Sheppard receives medical attention and meets a nurse who quickly becomes friends with him and who brings along some of her friends to meet him during his stay in Iran.
Over the course of the film, one learns more about the way in which these Iranian women (and many others like them) are opposed to the government with regards to the sexist and unfair political stances of the country. They ascribe these issues related to what they can wear and where they can go as issues that relate to government leadership and not to their own religion. They are opposed to these unfair politics of the government and in discussing these elements with Sheppard the film finds its footing with the most interesting, memorable, and relevant part of the documentary.
The Iran Job focuses on these relationships and it's clear that a genuine emotional bond is formed between these people despite the differences that exist due to their own distinctive cultural backgrounds. Sheppard learns a great deal about the women of Iran and as a result he gains a better understanding of who they are and what they have to fight for in Iran. Ultimately, this also helps Sheppard to better understand his long-distance relationship to his longtime girl-friend, whom he can only Skype chat and email during his stay in unfamiliar land as the only way for the couple to communicate during his stay.
The fact that the film focuses on portraying common ground and similarities between people across quite different cultures and backgrounds is a wonderful, positive, and important thing which makes this documentary feel like one of the best of its type. You get a sport's film that covers awe-inspiring plays and team-building efforts while also getting a human portrait that works as a quietly moving wonder of documentary filmmaking. In examining both elements of the film with an equal passion (the sports and the people), Till Schauder has made a moving documentary worthy of discovery.
The Iran Job arrives on DVD from Film Movement with a good 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image that retains the digital photography of the film with strong clarity, depth, and detail. The presentation is entirely suitable for the film and is a quality representation of the filmmaking.
Due to it being a documentary, the film's audio is simultaneously presented in English and in Farsi with English subtitles based on who is speaking. The film's dialogue is clean and easy to understand. The encoding isn't that dynamic due to the documentary nature but effectively and efficiently works well with the material.
The release includes the standard assortment of Film Movement inclusions: a monthly short film, bios on the filmmakers and cast/crew (in this case those who were prominently featured in the documentary), a statement from the director, and notes on why Film Movement selected it as part of the collection. Trailers promoting other Film Movement releases are also provided.
The monthly short film is City Bomber, which is a narrative short film from the same director of The Iran Job, Till Schauder. The piece feels like an off-kilter student film in which it's ambition far exceeds the budget and what was being worked with. The short apparently won some awards, but it's a bit too silly in its comedic undertones given the serious subject matter, which revolves on a bomber who is on a job to explode a building and on his relationship to his young daughter. This odd little piece of filmmaking feels inspired by French New Wave but I didn't find it to be as effective as the main documentary feature. (Presented in German with English Subtitles).
The Iran Job is much more than just another sport's documentary. It's a moving film about the relationships between people across cultural differences and it is ultimately a documentary in exploration of the human spirit. The main basketball player of the film, Kevin Sheppard, is an excellent and likeable protagonist for the documentary. Filmmaker Till Schauder has done an incredible job making this documentary, which is impressive for both its ability to focus on the Iran Basketball League's tournament as well as upon the relationships formed as Sheppard gets to know the open, intelligent, and compassionate people he befriends while staying in Iran.