I try to maintain a policy of not speaking publicly about films I don’t program. However, because Caveh Zahedi has accused me in a YouTube video of “blacklisting” his film The Sheik and I, I want to clarify certain facts before further misinformation gets out of hand.

Here is the background:

Prior to the SXSW film festival, Caveh Zahedi asked for my opinion of his film The Sheik & I. I wrote him a private letter detailing my grave reservations about the film and what I considered the disregard that he showed for the people filmed – in many cases without their consent – and the possible repercussions for their safety. I advised him not to show the film at SXSW in its current state. I shared that letter with SXSW programmer Janet Pierson, so that she wouldn’t be taken by surprise if Zahedi followed through on my advice; and because I thought the issues were serious enough to warrant further consideration on her part. That is the only occasion when I initiated any correspondence with a festival programmer about the film. As we know, that email didn’t change the course for SXSW. I also wrote to three journalists after they had written positively about the film to provide additional context. None of that correspondence resulted in any change of their positions.

Zahedi uses the term “blacklist” evoking the era of Joe McCarthy when filmmakers had their livelihoods threatened. That’s a far cry from this situation. On the contrary, it’s important to note that I curated his earlier film I Am a Sex Addict for SundanceNOW’s Doc Club for February 2013.

I’m hardly the only person who had problems with The Sheik and I. I’d point you to this substantial review out of SXSW in Collider.

Other critics have been more favorable and other festivals have embraced it. But Zahedi can’t seem to accept that he’s made a film with a mixed response.

This incident has been thoroughly raked over by other journalists including Violet Lucca of Film Comment who spent a lot of time looking into it in the spring before deciding it wasn’t really a story.

It’s ironic that Zahedi stands on the ground of free speech, yet wants to smear me for exercising mine.

– Thom Powers

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