Director tells his own sex addict story

By Alastair Bull

While most people are out trying to hide their flaws, Caveh Zahedi is making a career out of publicising them as much as possible.

The American filmmaker is in New Zealand to promote his latest film I Am A Sex Addict, which is playing in New Zealand as part of the International Film Festival.

I Am A Sex Addict, like most of his films, tells a story about his own life and is a hybrid of documentary and fiction film.

Zahedi narrates the story from the present, from outside a chapel just as he is about to get married. He re-enacts parts of his life from his past in which he plays himself -- often in what seems to be an extreme comic-book fashion -- and has actors playing parts around him.

To add to the blurring of reality and fiction, he includes home movie footage of some characters, including the ex-girlfriends who have actors portraying them in the staged sections.

He also regularly talks about the film's own making, telling how he discovers one of his actresses has a career in porn movies and showing another declining to perform a simulated oral sex scene.

"There was no way to make a documentary about it because it was all in the past tense so obviously I had to re-stage things," Zahedi says.

"But at the same time it's all true, and I thought if I put in footage of the real people and as much documentary footage as possible it would ground it in reality."

Adding to the hybrid nature of the film are some scenes of animation using the technique of drawing over filmed footage. For this Zahedi went to Bob Sabiston.

Zahedi's sex addiction was a compulsion to have sex with prostitutes, even when he was in a relationship. The film portrays him knowing it wasn't right and trying several ways to deal with it -- including being as honest as possible about it with his girlfriends, who often are less than happy with it.

Zahedi has been compared to Woody Allen in his willingness to put his own faults on screen, albeit even more knowing in his and the film's self-awareness.

He's also influenced by Jean-Luc Godard and American documentarian Ed Pincus, who filmed his life for 25 years and cut it down to 90 minutes.

"I've been interested in reality for some time and trying to figure out the best way to capture it or talk about it," he says.

"But I'm also interested in fiction. I don't think of myself as a documentarian. I'm interested in both and how they can intertwine effectively."

Putting all his flaws on screen when making his movies is something he regards as important.

"I think my character defects are all in the movie in addition to the addiction," he says.

"I've been making autobiographical films for a while and I think they all have that element of putting my character defects into the film as honestly as I can, and I think that's what makes them interesting. There's nothing less interesting than seeing somebody being saintly.

"It's a tricky balance because if you make your character too unlikable you lose your audience but if you try too hard to make them likeable you also lose the power of what you're trying to say."

I Am A Sex Addict has had some critics in conservative parts of the United States, but it has also been Zahedi's most successful work commercially.

"My character does things that aren't always morally upstanding and a lot of people just get really upset, and since I'm in the movie and it's my story they get upset with me," he said.

"But it's my most accessible film. My other films are much more challenging. This one's challenging too at a moral level for some people, but my other films were challenging at an art level or stamina level.

"This is the most comedic film I've made, and it's the most audience-friendly film I've made, but also it's about something that people are really interested about."

He says he made the film as much for other sex addicts.

"I think it's way more common than people realise," he said.

"When I went to my first Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting I just found it very healing to hear other men talking openly and vulnerably about their sex addiction experiences.

"I just felt like it would be nice to be able to give that same experience to other people who don't know about meetings or don't go to meetings or don't have any meetings to go to and I just thought it would be healing for people to hear that."

Zahedi says he's been over his sex addiction for some years, and now has other films in mind.

"I'm trying to make a film called How To Legally Overthrow The US Government," he said. "I'm still working out how anyone can do it."

* I Am A Sex Addict plays at the New Zealand Film Festival in Wellington on July 24 and July 25. Caveh Zahedi will attend the screenings.


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