Kevin Sheppard, fourth from left, with his Iranian basketball team
Who: Basketball player Kevin Sheppard was an all-Atlantic Sun Conference guard for Jacksonville University who played professionally in South America, Europe, China and Israel before joining the Iranian Super League in 2008. In Iran, he established a bond with three outspoken female fans of his team who introduced him to Iran’s rich culture and to the country’s pressing human rights issues, which in Sheppard’s view mirror some of the same issues still plaguing the U.S. Sheppard, who obtained a bachelor’s degree in economics from JU in 2003, now coaches his former Virgin Islands high school team and runs a youth basketball league.
What: Sun-Ray Cinema in Jacksonville is debuting the highly acclaimed documentary, “The Iran Job,” about Sheppard’s life in Iran. The project was a harrowing adventure for German-American filmmaker Till Schauder, who was banned from Iran during production; colleagues in Iran had to shoot the final scenes. “The Iran Job” had its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June 2012. Schauder co-produced the film with his Iranian wife, Sara Nodjoumi.
When: 3:30 p.m. and 5:20 p.m. daily Friday, Oct. 26, through Thursday, Nov. 1.
Where: Sun Ray Cinema, 1028 Park St. in Five Points in Jacksonville.
Film info: theiranjob.com and facebook.com/theiranjob
Here’s “The Iran Job” trailer:
This week, Wave Weekly asked Schauder about the “The Iran Job” and working with Sheppard.
How was Kevin identified as someone who might be a good fit for the documentary, and at what point did you determine he was the right fit?
Schauder: I knew Kevin was the right fit after 20 seconds. That’s how quickly he had me on the floor laughing. He is very funny and approachable, but also insightful and curious about other cultures — exactly the qualities I was looking for. Not to mention he’s a terrific basketball player.
As it turns out, in what ways was life as an American basketball player in Iran the same and different as your preconceptions?
Schauder: The biggest surprise was to see how much Iranians actually like Americans. The Western media often portrays Iran as the scariest place in the world. It does not correspond at all with the warmth and hospitality with which Iranians welcome Americans. They really go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. Kevin was very impressed by that.
Schauder: Iran offered the biggest possible culture clash. From our American perspective, going to Iran is like going straight into the lion’s den — this is a dramatic context to place a story in. The same story wouldn’t work so well if an American basketball player went to, say, Germany, where the culture is not that different and where we don’t have political disagreements or religious differences.
What’s the status of marketing the movie? What will it take for it to be a commercial success?
Schauder: We’re in the last hours of our Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/554272471/the-iran-job-bring-it-to-a-theater-near-you
) to raise marketing and distribution funds. It’s looking like we’ll reach our goal, but could still use much more support to properly endow the movie with a marketing and release budget. Once the Kickstarter campaign ends, we’ll direct our fundraising to our website (www.theiranjob.com
), specifically through our fiscal sponsor where tax-deductible contributions can be made (https://market.ifp.org/newyork/fiscal/Donation.cfm
). With proper distribution and marketing funds, this film will have a chance to get much wider exposure. And that would increase its chances of becoming a commercial success. However, it should be said that documentaries are very rarely commercial success stories. We’d be quite happy if this one here reaches a wide audiences, can change perceptions and open hearts and minds in the U.S. vis-a-vis Iran.
As the star of the movie, what is Kevin’s continuing role? Might Kevin be able to make some big bucks on this project?
Kevin is very supportive of the film. He does a lot of press for us – for example, if all goes well he’ll be on the Colbert Report first week of November. He’s also aware that Sara and I have been doing this on a shoestring budget for four years now and it’s certainly not a project to get rich off of — unless you’re talking about rich in wisdom and knowledge.
What other film projects have you worked on?
My background is in narrative feature films. “The Iran Job” is actually my first documentary. Before this film I made an indie comedy called Santa Smokes, and another one called Duke’s House, a docu-drama about Duke Ellington’s former apartment building in Harlem, as well as two action films in Germany.