An interview by Jessica Hundley
For the last decade and a half, Caveh Zahedi has been dedicated to making films that stand firmly outside the mainstream, that tear up the comforting façade of day to day and gaze intently at the soul that lurks beneath–his own soul, specifically.
Since his wonderfully irreverent debut, 1991's A Little Stiff, Zahedi has been obsessed with autobiographical explorations of his own life, dramatizations in which he himself is the star. Through these sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant reenactments, Zahedi seeks to find something deeper for himself, and for the audience as well.
His newest film, I Am a Sex Addict, explores, with a remarkable candidness, his own complex obsession with sexuality. Yet there is something grander here as well, a universal observation on the need for love and the ways in which desire manages to make an addict of all of us.
What first compelled you to begin using film as a means of expression?
I was in college, and I was torn between art and politics. One day, it occurred to me that filmmaking was the way to combine them both. So I set about learning everything I could about filmmaking, and over the course of the years, I fell in love with film, the way one falls in love with a person over time.
How have your films evolved over the course of your career?
I started out making fairly conventional films. And then one day one of my film teachers told me that my films had the same aesthetic as commercials. I didn't really see what was wrong with that, but then I read a book about the films of Jean-Luc Godard called Film and Revolution, which completely changed my way of thinking about cinema. After that, I started experimenting with film aesthetics.
So many of your films involve intensive self-exploration, what compels you to make yourself vulnerable in that way?
My favorite thing in life is honesty. I can't stand being lied to, and I feel terrible about myself when I feel that I am being phony or dishonest in some way. So even though being vulnerable is uncomfortable in a lot of ways, it still feels better to me than being dishonest.
What have you learned about yourself in the process of making these films?
When I first started making films, I honestly thought that I was the most talented filmmaker in the world, and that I would one day be recognized as the greatest filmmaker of all time. The process of making these films has taught me that I was seriously deluded, that film is an infinitely difficult medium that takes a lifetime to even begin to master, and that the proper relation to it is absolute and complete humility.
With I Am a Sex Addict, you're analyzing a former addiction you've since learned to control, but did making the film, and in a sense reenacting that addiction, test your resolve?
Yes, making the film did occasionally test my resolve. They say "once a sex addict, always a sex addict," and that's true to a certain extent. But there is such a thing as recovery, and oddly enough, having been a sex addict and having seen ruin my life, I think I have much better boundaries now than most people in similar situations.
You seem to use cinema as a method of revealing truths. What films, beside your own, are the most truthful to you?
A Woman under the Influence by John Cassavetes, The Idiots by Lars Von Trier, Naked by Mike Leigh, Contempt by Jean-Luc Godard and Gummo by Harmony Korine.