The Sheik and I


I Am a Sex Addict director Caveh Zahedi couldn’t have been more surprised when he was commissioned to make a short film on the theme of “art as a subversive act” for an arts festival in the Emirate of Sharjah, and the adventure that followed is shown, told, and occasionally re-created through animation and word balloons in Zahedi’s lively, challenging documentary The Sheik and I. Zahedi was promised total creative freedom, just so long as he didn’t include frontal nudity or make fun of the Prophet Muhammad or the Sheikh of Sharjah. That last bit inspired Zahedi, American by birth and a wiseacre by disposition, to indeed make fun of the sheikh, and in doing so he discovered the severe limits on artistic expression in a society where make-believe transgressions are treated as harshly as the real thing. As one Sharjah resident, believing to be off-camera, puts it in The Sheik and I: “In a place where there’s no freedom of speech, you cannot go and say there’s no freedom of speech.” For all the serious issues it addresses (the specters of Salman Rushdie’s fatwa and Theo van Gogh’s assassination loom over the third act), The Sheik and I is funny and visually inventive, which leavens its often bleak vision of the state of freedom in the some parts of the world.