The Sheik and I: Film Review

Caveh Zahedi's tiresomely self-indulgent documentary squanders its important themes.

Filmmaker Caveh Zahedi relates his efforts to fill a commission for a Middle East arts festival in this satirical documentary.

(Factory 25)

Featuring the same tiresomely endless self-referential aspects as his last directorial effort, 2005’s I Am a Sex Addict, The Sheik and I once again puts filmmaker Caveh Zahedi front and center, this time in a satirical documentary that’s mainly all about him. The scenario revolves around his being commissioned to make a short film on the theme of “art as a subversive act” for a Middle Eastern arts festival held in Sharjah, part of the United Arab Emirates. But this meta-theatrical attempt at creating a comically subversive film is far too self-indulgent to provide insight into its important themes.               

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Informed that his limitations include no nudity and no satirizing of the prophet Mohammed or the Sheik of Sharjah, the Iranian-American Zahedi proceeds to ignore the latter two restrictions, coming up with an idea for a largely improvised, clearly incendiary film about a kidnapping, with the roles played by local residents whose participation may well prove dangerous for them.                 

In-between scenes depicting Zahedi’s’ hapless attempts to film his opus and occasional interludes featuring rough-drawn animation, we’re subjected to endless segments in which he records a sort of video diary in which he ruminates about artistic freedom, or the lack thereof, while self-questioning his own methods and motives. That most of this is meant as a put-on is obvious -- or at least one hopes so, judging by such moments as when he callously ignores the cries of his young son so that he can continue pontificating.

The film’s strained attempts at provocation lack any real depth or wit, despite such attempts at self-importance as referencing both the murder of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh and the fatwa levied against author Salman Rushdie. Those events were the tragic results of genuinely courageous artistic expression, while The Sheik and I mainly serves as a testament to its filmmaker’s cluelessness.

Production: Reinventing the Wheel.

Director/producer: Caveh Zahedi.

Directors of photography: Colin Nusbaum, Michael Patten.

Editors: Caveh Zahedi, David Gray, Coiln Nusbaum.

Composers: Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, Sammy Miller.

Not rated, 108 min.