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The Sheik and I

Director • Caveh Zahedi

Country • USA / United Arab Emirates

Year • 2012

Duration • 104 min

The Sheik and I begins as a film about making a film.

It ends up being a film about making a film about making a film. Of course, depending on your point of view, none of these films actually exist.

New York based documentarian and Ira-Glass-soundalike Caveh Zahedi (I am a Sex Addict, I Don’t Hate Vegas Anymore, In the Bathtub of the World) travels to the tiny Arab Emirate of Sharjah. He is commissioned to direct a film for the Sharjah Art Foundation’s biennial concerning ‘art as a subversive act’. Zahedi’s initial intention is to do exactly as he is asked. It’s an intention that turns out to be hopelessly naive.

An exploration of dictatorship, Islam, racism, hypocrisy and censorship, The Sheik and I simultaneously confirms and debunks Western conceptions of the Arab world. It is also a film about filmmaking that could compete with 8 1/2 for sheer absurdity. Except this all actually happened. The film emerges as a document of a battle fought between Zahedi and the elusive, Wizard-of-Oz-like Sheik. If frustratedly (and hilariously) punching at shadows could be called a battle. Zahedi’s audacity dealing with a cast of characters that could have been drawn from a Middle Eastern Catch 22 and, ultimately, the possibility of a fatwa makes you continually unsure whether he is an idiot, genius or madman. Or maybe some quixotic combination of all three.

+ Pork Chop skype-chats with Caveh Zahedi.
+ A short post-script video on what went down between Caveh Zahedi and Toronto International Film Festival’s Thom Powers during the making of the film.
+ Burkini Bellinis at the bar!

Video art in the cinema. This week we feature Melbourne-based artist Tara Cook‘s Recognition. Presented in collaboration with Channels — The Australian Video Art Festival, happening 18–21 September 2013.

“The Sheik of Sharjah’s like the Wizard of Oz, it just seemed interesting to look behind the curtain.”

–Caveh Zahedi

“Zahedi’s candidness allows his narrative to nimbly shift between passionate censorship treatise and brash prank.

It’s a daring work made with reckless abandon – in other words, both irresponsible and necessary.”


“Art doesn’t just bow. It shouldn’t just be only reverent to the sacred, it should also be playful with the sacred.”

–Caveh Zahedi

“Whether mocking the Muslim world or indicting Western attitudes toward that world — perhaps a little of both — The Sheik and I argues vociferously that it’s always better to offend than to bore.”

–The New York Times