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The Iran Job DVD Review

The Iran Job (2013) movie poster The Iran Job

US Theatrical Release: June 7, 2013 / Running Time: 95 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Writer/Director: Till Schauder / Tagline: The story of an American basketball player in Iran.

Subjects: Kevin Sheppard, Eunice Sheppard, Leah Sheppard, Laleh, Elaheh, Hilda, Zoran "Z" Majkic, Kami Jamshidvand, Ali Doraghi, Mehdi Shirjang, Gholam Reza Khajeh, Asadollah Kabir, Fereidoon Reisi, Mohammad Ahmadi, Ramin Ahmadi, Waitari Marsh, Hemzel Shimishi, Abdullah

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The Iran Job documents a season in the life of a professional basketball player. Born in St. Croix, the largest of the United States Virgin Islands, three years after Tim Duncan,
Kevin Sheppard attended Florida's Jacksonville University on an athletic scholarship. There, he played both soccer and basketball, building to a senior year that saw him averaging 16.2 points, 4.5 assists, and 1.6 steals per game on the hardwood. The 6-foot point guard went undrafted by the NBA, leading him to play abroad in Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and Israel. In 2008, Sheppard signed a one-year contract to play for A.S. Shiraz, a new team in the Iranian Super League.

German director Till Schauder followed Sheppard around Iran, capturing his experiences. The film is interested in Sheppard's temperamental play, preserving his game-winning shots and free throws along with the shame that his media-recorded post-loss kicking of a garbage can brings. Sheppard is expected to produce instant results for the team, which dreams of winning the title in its first year. More realistically, Shiraz aims for one of eight playoff slots for which the league's thirteen teams compete.

Pro basketball player Kevin Sheppard goes looking for a Christmas tree with his Afghan super Abdullah in "The Iran Job."

But the film's interests go beyond basketball. Though anti-American sentiment abounds, Sheppard meets people who are plenty friendly to him. People like Abdullah, the Afghan superintendent of his apartment building with whom he communicates despite a vast language divide. There is also the physical therapist Sheppard befriends and welcomes into his home along with her two female friends. Shedding their head scarves for the camera's foreign audiences, the three young women weigh in on their Islamic country's stifling mores. Even being in Sheppard's apartment is against the law and requires him to sneak them in and out. Though this friendship seems capable of blossoming into a romance, it isn't to be. Sheppard is committed to the girlfriend he left back home in St. Croix.

Sheppard's passionate play before rambunctious crowds and easygoing demeanor off the court (where he's always clad in Jordan gear and a do-rag) are countered with politics. The historic 2008 U.S. presidential election functions as backdrop as later does Iran's early 2009 presidential election. A potential change in power over there seems to wield greater effect. One day, all women are banned from watching men's athletics. Two days later, the ban is lifted without explanation. Even when admitted, women and men are segregated in the stands.

Three women Kevin befriends provide a female perspective on Iran's restrictive Islamic laws.

There are subtle indications that Schauder is taking some liberties, as he tries to generate tension for Shiraz's final regular season game, painting it as do or die, even though a win thrusts them all the way up to fifth place.
In addition, Abdullah is baffled by Sheppard's desire for a Christmas tree, misunderstanding the word Christmas as "raisin", even though a Christmas tree is in plain sight next to the court at one game. If this documentary was more serious or weighty, such tactics might concern.

As is, The Iran Job is gently entertaining and reasonably revealing. The film is less interested in Sheppard himself and his journeyman's career than in the culture clash situation that surrounds him. Schauder acknowledges as much in the DVD's bonus features, confessing that he arrived at Sheppard after being unsatisfied by two nice but less charismatic subjects. With its soundtrack of Farsi raps and subtitles translating even accented English, the film is remarkably accessible and fairly engaging, without having any big bombshells or an ace up its sleeve.

Nine months after playing in two US theaters, The Iran Job reached general retail this week in the same DVD sent to Film Movement's Film-of-the-Month Club subscribers last June.

The Iran Job DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Disc Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English & Farsi), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English & Farsi)
Subtitles: English
Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Release Date: March 4, 2014 (Film-of-the-Month Club Debut: June 1, 2013)
Suggested Retail Price: $24.95
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Clear Keepcase
Also available on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

The picture quality of the DVD's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is okay, but nothing spectacular. The varied sources create some issues beyond standard definition limitations. Similarly, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack isn't anything to write home about. It barely seems to gain anything on the default 2.0 stereo mix. The English subtitles mentioned above are of the burned-in variety and they are the only ones offered on the disc. Closed captions are included for those able to access them.

Producer Sara Nodjoumi and director Till Schauder answer questions on a rooftop for Film Movement. Biographies are supplied not just for the filmmakers and stars, but the three women who speak their minds in the film.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The DVD's extras begin with a Filmmaker Interviews section.
This holds Film Movement's May 2013 rooftop interview (19:26) with director Till Schauder and his wife, producer Sara Nodjoumi about the project's origins and production experiences.

Also found here is a December 2011 Q&A session (34:34) following a work-in-progress screening at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In it, Schauder and Nodjoumi address the film's evolution, its soundtrack, and composition. There's a little overlap, but the public reaction alone distinguishes it.

The Bios & Trailers section serves up biographies of Schauder, Nodjoumi, executive producer Abigail Disney, Kevin Sheppard, and the three local women featured in the film.

This young girl's life is endangered in Till Schauder's 1995 short "City Bomber." Kevin is treated to a traditional Iran family dinner in this shot from the DVD's main menu.

It also holds The Iran Job's trailer (2:17), the disc-opening trailers for Three Worlds, La Sirga, and Aliyah, and additional previews for Only When I Dance, Vasermil, and Under the Bombs.

All Film Movement DVDs include a bonus short film. This one's actually connects to the feature presentation.
Like it, 1995's City Bomber (21:30) is directed by Till Schauder. This black and white German short (with burned-in English subtitles) tells the story of an architect/terrorist whose young daughter gets trapped in front of a skyscraper he's wired to explode. It's odd.

Finally, as always, About Film Movement gives you access to the company's disc-opening promo and a short write-up about the company's DVD-of-the-month club.

Like the company's other discs, the main menu plays scored clips under standard listings.

The inside of the clear keepcase displays a paragraph explaining Film Movement's selection of The Iran Job and another with comments from director Till Schauder explaining his vision for the film.

With one second left, Kevin Sheppard tries to sink a game-winning free throw for A.S. Shiraz. On the eve of the team's playoff game, Kevin Sheppard pretends to interview an Iranian teammate.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Iran Job makes for an easy and enjoyable viewing as it looks at the experience of an American athlete living and playing in the Middle East. With or without an interest in basketball, you should be able to appreciate this documentary of a distant way of life while expecting more of a message or point.

The DVD wields an adequate feature presentation and a few more extras than most Film Movement discs. I'd recommend a viewing with measured expectations.

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Reviewed March 6, 2014.



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