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Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Brief Conversation With Caveh Zahedi Re: "I Am A Sex Addict"

Caveh Zahedi has written and directed a very funny and apparently brutally honest film called "I Am A Sex Addict." The movie is an autobiographical comedy-drama with a whole lot of reenactments, done with an excellent sense of humor and quick structural gymnastics that I have rarely seen before. "...Sex Addict..." tells the story of Zahedi's long struggle with and ultimate recovery from his addiction to sex with prostitutes. The film played at the AFI Silver theater in Silver Spring, Maryland on Tuesday, November 15 as a part of the Under The Influence film series. Following the film there was a moderated discussion with the audience. This discussion included a psychoanalyst who went to great lengths to illuminate the issues that Zahedi's character deals with in the movie. It was an educational and amusing experience. After that official post-show discussion, three other audience members (including blogger and media scholar Chuck Tryon) and I sat down with Zahedi for a more informal discussion and a quick interview:

Sujewa: Can filmmaking be dangerously addictive?

Caveh: Yes.

Sujewa: All right. Did success, or lack of success, in your pursuit of a filmmaking career, contribute to your sex addiction?

Caveh: Yes, like I said at the beginning (of the movie), I was frustrated in my career, my marriage was frustrating, my career was frustrating, and in that vortex of frustration, something just kind of snapped.

Sujewa: Got it. Earlier on in your life, did being an Iranian-American propel you towards being a filmmaker? Since there are not a lot of images of Iranian-Americans in our media?

Caveh: No, that's not why I went into film. But one thing that is interesting is that if you look at Iranian cinema, a lot of it is very self-reflexive. It is a very metaphysical kind of cinema, and it's very much like what I do in a way. But I started doing it before I had seen any Iranian films. It might be like a genetic thing. The issues that interest me seem to interest other Iranian filmmakers as well, and it is weird because it is very much an Iranian cinema thing.

Sujewa: So you see similarities between how your films and their films go about addressing the issues raised in the works?

Caveh: Yeah, I mean they seem to be interested in the whole question of representation and revealing that it is a movie. They are very interested in the fiction/non-fiction relationship, and all of my films are kind of like that.

Chuck Tryon: The 9-11 film that you did, if I remember correctly, your film was about a class, about the process of making a film. I thought it was a really interesting way to address the trauma of September 11.

Caveh: Yeah, the film is all about how one student does not want to be in the movie. And I am trying to get him to be in the movie, and being coercive. I threaten to throw him out if he doesn't sign the form, but he doesn't agree to sign the form, to give permission to be in the movie. And I eventually persuade him to sign the form, and we see him sign the form and hand it to me. So it's kind of like it's a drama on two levels. That kind of thing is very Iranian I think.

Another Person At The Table (I did not catch his name): Do you think this film will have a role in bringing more attention to sex addiction and establishing it as an actual addiction?

Caveh: Yeah, I think it will, and that's kind of why I made it. I really made it because when I went to my first sex addiction meeting I found it to be a very healing thing. I heard men talk openly about their sexual addiction problems. I'd never heard anyone talk about that before and I had always felt very alone. The shame is much greater when you feel like you are the only person doing something, so I kind of wanted to do for others what the men in the meeting had done for me by being honest with me. And since I am a filmmaker, the natural thing to do was to make a film about it, in order to reach more people and put it out there so that it would be less shameful for others to say "me too". People come up to me at screenings and say "me too." They feel that they can say that because I've created a space where they feel that they can do that.

Sujewa: Do you think distributors have turned down this movie mostly because this movie deals so directly with sex addiction?

Caveh: No, I think they just want to make a profit. They are afraid that it is too edgy, too threatening to people. They are always going for the middle of the road kind of thing that will maximize profits, the what-will-play-in-Kansas kind of thing.

Sujewa: No one's offered anything that you thought was a decent amount of money?

Caveh: No one's offered anything at all.

Sujewa: Wow, that's silly.

Caveh: The movie has played a lot of festivals, about twenty so far. Distributors have had the chance to see it. They know that people really like it.

Sujewa: I read that The Debut made like 2 million dollars through self distribution. I think you might end up all right with self-distribution.

Caveh: I think I will be.

Sujewa: About going from film to DV in your career, "A Little Stiff" was shot on film and the rest of the movies on video right?

Caveh: No, "I Don't Hate Las Vegas Anymore" was shot on film too.

Sujewa: What do you think about the two formats?

Caveh: I like them both, but for me it's great to be able to shoot & reshoot & reshoot. I am not a purist about it.

Sujewa: What are the upcoming theatrical self-distribution play dates for the movie?

Caveh: January 6 at the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle, January 27 at the Alamo Draft House in Austin, February 10 at the Cinema Village in New York City. Those are the only dates set so far.

Sujewa: Your past work has been concerned with spirituality and God, what do you think about life after death?

Caveh: I hope there is life after death.

Sujewa: What do you think about aliens and UFOs?

Caveh: I've never seen any.

Sujewa: Have audience members been hostile towards you after seeing the movie? Today's audience was very sympathetic I thought.

Caveh: Most audiences have been overwhelmingly sympathetic. There's always somebody who is pissed off but generally, surprisingly, most people have been sympathetic.

Sujewa: That one actress in the movie, was she really a French porn star?

Caveh: Yeah, she's a real French porn star.

Sujewa: In general the film was great. I liked the reflecting-on-itself type of structure, and how you made it all funny. Good job Caveh.

Caveh: Thanks.

And after that we talked some more, I turned off my camera and got quiet so other people at the table could ask some questions from Zahedi. After about 10 minutes or so the organizers of the film series pulled Zahedi away. Three of us from the table walked off into the warm Silver Spring night to get some coffee at the Tastee Diner, and we were thrilled to have been able to talk with the maker of the excellent "I Am A Sex Addict".

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