The essence of human is Caveh Zahedi: unfiltered, ever curious, strictly honest. A shriveled man, emotionally naked, all the posturing squeezed out. He sniffs up every bush, seeks God, grasps for anything uncomfortable. His existence is a performance of complete transparency, a portrait of humanity with the pollution of diplomacy burned off. In his most renowned film, I Am A Sex Addict, he pins himself to the cross like Jesus, a martyr for his own philosophy (“it has to be real!”).
Unsurprisingly, Caveh’s radical honesty is often to his personal disadvantage. Networks are scared to fund his projects – despite his decorated biography – because he tends to expose the sore spots of everyone in sight, including the funders (especially the funders). My favorite of his films, The Sheik And I, left him banned from the United Arab Emirates by the government body that commissioned it. The Show About The Show, which I vaguely review in the following paragraphs, lead to a divorce from his wife of 15 years (after they’d graphically reenacted her affair).
“Unfiltered, ever curious, strictly honest. A shriveled man, emotionally naked…”
But for every sacrifice, he is rewarded: a Guggenheim fellowship, a devoted audience (typically filmmakers), a saturated life. Richard Linklater, who featured Caveh in Waking Life and has advocated for a fund dedicated to letting Caveh do whatever he wants, once referred to his body of work as “one of the greatest poems ever written because it applies to everybody.”
I asked Caveh what he thought the world would look like if everyone were as honest as he is. “Heaven.” Has he ever met anyone as honest as him? No, nor could he think of anyone else particularly honest, nor could anybody else think of anybody particularly honest. Unfortunately, he explained, most people prefer privacy. Because of this he commonly alienates himself from those he includes in his work.
I was there to interview Caveh about The Show About The Show, which was premiering the first two episodes of the second season at Sundance, but immediately I confessed that my priority was to get on the show myself. “I’ll do anything.” We returned to a restaurant where he’d ditched half of a meal with his producers and crew. “It has to be real,” he repeated. After lunch we returned upstairs to take video portraits of me and my accomplice Tyler, as he does with every character in his show. “By the way, the more deep, honest, intimate questions you ask, the better.” So I asked, “what are you scared of?” From there, we quickly arrived at a juicy confession, which he said would become part of episode 5 of the second season.
“…Caveh sinks his teeth into a variety of personal conflicts provoked by the production of the show.”
Although the episodic structure works as a depth marker for inwards exploration, the show is meant to be watched all the way through as a film (it screened this way in select theaters). The first episode, aptly titled Why Did We Greenlight This? exhibits the process of pitching the show to BRIC, Brooklyn’s public access station that funded the show. From there Caveh sinks his teeth into a variety of personal conflicts provoked by the production of the show. Every episode shaves off another layer, becoming simultaneously more raw and complex. If you jumped in at the middle, you’d quickly drown in the endless references to prior events.
We split off for a few hours before returning to film reenactments, which he does whenever possible with the real characters playing themselves. During the break, Tyler pointed out for the second time that Caveh is only honest with people about their flaws, and we agreed that this was the root of his constant conflict. When we found him again at the Park Hotel on Main St, I confronted him about his attention to negativity. “That’s just how my mind works,” he professed. But I think what he really meant was: that’s how the show works.
Caveh finds beauty in the raw, and you can only get to the raw by wearing people down. As Stefan the cameraman explained to Caveh at lunch, “it builds over time, it adds up…which is why your marriage is ruined now, it added up.” This prodding for emotion makes Caveh’s work compelling, a magnification of interpersonal conflicts. Given the choice to sacrifice life for art, he chooses art every time – the bigger the sacrifice, the bigger the reward. This time, he sacrifices his marriage and his nuclear family, the most real thing he had to offer.
The Show About The Show (2018) Written, Produced, Directed, and Edited by Caveh Zahedi, Starring Amanda Field, Ashley Foy, Emmy Harrington, Peter Rinaldi, Karley Sciortino and Caveh Zahedi, Shot by Jason Banker, Executive Produced by Aziz Isham; The Show About The Show played in the Indie Episodic Section at Sundance 2018. Season One is available to view on YouTube starting at the link below.
10 out of 10 Oscars