Till Schauder’s story of an African-American basketball player in Iran had its world premiere this Summer at the Los Angeles Film Festival. While still on the festival circuit, the film has already opened theatrically in Los Angeles.
When Kevin Sheppard agrees to relocate from his home in the US Virgin Islands for a contract position on new Iranian basketball team, AC Shiraz, he leaves more than his girlfriend behind. As one of only two non-Iranians on the team, and the only African-American around, Sheppard sticks out, but he’s there to do a job, not serve as an ambassador for the freedoms of the West – or so he intends. When he meets Hilda, a physical therapist for AC Shiraz, and her friends Elaheh and Laleh, Sheppard forms an unexpectedly close friendship, one that demonstrates the social controls placed on women in the country. As the young women risk their reputations and potentially more to visit the apartment he shares with Serbian teammate Z and discuss taboo subjects, or show him around the city, Sheppard’s eyes open to the realities of the political situation in the region – something he witnesses as the Green Movement gains momentum in the lead up to the country’s contentious 2009 election. While basketball provides the narrative thrust, Schauder’s film transcends the typical sports film conventions to provide much more to think about than whether AC Shiraz will make it to the championships or not. As indicated by the title, Sheppard attempts to remain dispassionate about his presence in Iran, but beyond his outspoken friends, the gregarious young man is confronted with other characters who offer insight into Iranian society, such as his bemused non-English speaking super, Abdullah, or a merchant who expresses kinship with African Americans.