Genre: Sports Documentary/Political
Year Released: 2012
Distributor: Film Movement
Origin: USA/US Virgin Islands/Germany/Iran
Running Time: 93 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 13+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Hoop Dreams, Offside, This is Not A Film, Salaam Dunk, More than a Game
-This film was executive produced by Abigail Disney. Yes, she’s part of that family being Roy E. Disney’s daughter, Roy Disney’s granddaughter, and Walt Disney’s grand-niece.
-The Iran Job raised over $100,000 on Kickstarter to help with the production costs.
-Kevin Sheppard, despite being a basketball player, has also been a part of the US Virgin Islands’ national soccer team briefly. He has played basketball not just in Iran and America, but also Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Israel.
I believe that after watching some of Jafar Panahi’s films and seeing Close-Up, I wanted to know what other movies were filmed in Iran. Well, this one is different given the production from Americans and from German director Till Schauder, but obviously, the country plays a big role here.
The Iran Job focuses on Kevin Sheppard, a basketball player from St. Croix, US Virgin Islands during his 2008-2009 season. He didn’t get drafted to the NBA, but he got offers from other countries and this offer came from Iran. His friends and family were quite concerned about him given the sociopolitical climate of that country, but he accepts a one year contract to be a part of this team. Kevin joins the floundering basketball team based in Shiraz (6th largest city in Southwestern Iran) named A. S. Shiraz and becomes the de facto captain of the team despite barely knowing Persian/Farsi. He’s only one of two foreign players with the other one being Zoran AKA Z from Serbia. They are both paid more than the locals on that team because there’s a quota of two foreign players per team and because no one else wants to play in that country.
The basketball related scenes are intense even though A. S. Shiraz was a low ranking team. I legitimately wanted that team to get better and for there to be common ground between Kevin and his teammates. They don’t win all of their games, so it made me want to root for them to make it to the playoffs. In the Iranian Super League (basically, Iran’s NBA), there are only thirteen teams and only the top eight get to go to said playoffs. Their rankings go up and down with each win or loss.
While basketball is a cornerstone topic in this documentary, it would be foolish of me not to talk about the political aspect of the film. There’s a good balance between the sporting and political themes with some scenes even converging. Kevin makes friends with the rest of the team, but he has to get used to the culture being different than America or the US Virgin Islands. He befriends some local women with one of them being a nurse at the hospital that he gets check-ups from. They talk about the state of affairs and with the then-upcoming election that involved a moderate candidate who wanted women’s rights in a country where women have to wear headdresses in public. They even talk about the contradictions with Islam and their theocratic regime which opened my eyes to that issue. Not to mention that several people were nice to Kevin even with all the anti-American propaganda as seen on some billboards in Shiraz. One such event where politics and sports collided was when women were temporarily banned from the men’s basketball games. I immediately thought about the plot of Offside when that scene happened even though that movie dealt with soccer.
There was a lot of funny moments where Kevin is getting used to the culture when he’s not practicing his basketball skills. The story of him trying to get a Christmas tree was hilarious with no one understanding what that was or even seeing a Christmas tree before. One part of that documentary has a scene where an Iranian is speaking English to him where he confesses his great appreciation for black people and even brags about going to Nashville and smoked weed in that city when he visited America. There’s even a food delivery guy who jokes around with Kevin despite barely knowing English and Kevin introduces him by saying “My boy, my boy, my boy…” in a really over-the-top voice.
I did have some mixed feelings with incorporating some of the news clip segments into the movie. Sure, the Iranian based ones were very relevant given their election and the eventual Green Uprising that took place after the movie, but some scenes didn’t work. The first ones that came to mind were the clips of George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton talking about the strained issues between both America and Iran in the beginning. I get it because it revealed a bipartisan issue from an American standpoint, but I thought it came across as heavy-handed despite the artistic impact.
I believe that both sports fans and political buffs would both find enjoyment in The Iran Job. It has a good story with A. S. Shiraz trying to succeed in the Super League while also revealing the pressure from Iran’s citizens that are still going on years after this documentary was filmed. The Iran Job is worth watching as it fuses various elements of documentary storytelling and breaks many stereotypes.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you’re a basketball fan
Subtract 2 points if you don’t like sociopolitical or geopolitical commentary
-Unique match graphics in the games
-Balance of sports and political elements
-Breaks stereotypes about Iranians
-The forced news clips interlaced with the film
-Basketball as a concept to unite Iranians can be cheesy at times
-Lack of storytelling with some A. S. Shiraz teammates
Final Score: 9/10 points
Content Warning: Teens and up. There’s some brief strong language in both English and Persian with the latter coming from really hardcore fans in the final match against one of the Tehran teams. One news clip involves an Iranian protestor getting shot which becomes a major element given the political situation. Also, some of the political aspects may be lost on younger viewers.
Photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.