He's Gotta Have It

Local filmmaker Caveh Zahedi's career was waylaid by his addiction to prostitution and porn. Today, his sexual compulsions could be the source of his comeback.

When he began shopping the completed screenplay in 1993, he got little interest. Written as an epic saga that followed him to Germany and Paris, the movie was budgeted at $2 million, a pittance by Hollywood standards but a heck of a lot for an untested director/star with what one critic called "an ugly face." Then there was the subject matter, which wasn't exactly Disney fare. "There was too much sex, it was too edgy, the ending was too preachy," Zahedi says. "The truth of the matter was I didn't have the experience to pull off a movie of that magnitude."

Instead, he shot I Don't Hate Las Vegas Anymore, an inside look at the dynamics among Zahedi, his father, and his half brother. Whereas A Little Stiff adhered to the standard "boy meets girl, boy obsesses over girl, girl falls for drummer" story structure, Las Vegas was an extended postmodern riff on creating art and surviving family. Throughout, Zahedi filmed himself during the kind of warts-and-all moments usually reserved for journal entries and late-night drunken confessions: drowsily pawing his father during an Ecstasy trip, complaining that his sound person (the ex-girlfriend from the brothel episode) wasn't focusing enough on him, and pushing his father to take a drug that could affect his heart's condition. (In response to criticism that he knowingly jeopardized his father's health, Zahedi admitted to engaging in a bit of patricidal fantasy.)

While Las Vegasreceived a critic's prize at the 1994 Rotterdam Film Festival and a prestigious North American premiere at the S.F. International Film Festival, it had many vocal detractors. A judge for the influential New York Film Forum theater reportedly watched five minutes of it before suggesting that the print be returned to the director -- immediately. The movie played for two weeks in select theaters nationwide and then disappeared.

The first draft of I Am a Sex Addict was an 
attempt to outshock Zahedi's rivals.
Paul Trapani
The first draft of I Am a Sex Addict was an attempt to outshock Zahedi's rivals.
The first draft of I Am a Sex Addict was an 
attempt to outshock Zahedi's rivals.
Paul Trapani
The first draft of I Am a Sex Addict was an attempt to outshock Zahedi's rivals.

"I don't think his work is for everyone," says local filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt, a friend and collaborator of Zahedi. "He makes a choice that he's going to offend some people, and he's going to push some people's buttons. I think he sees that as a function of art."

After Las Vegas, Zahedi didn't release another movie for six years. When he wasn't trying to finance his film about sex addiction, he was acting out his sex addiction, cruising prostitutes and porn theaters and flirting with strangers. As marriage No. 2 stumbled to a close, Zahedi headed back to Sex Addicts Anonymous.

But for all the help the program offered, Zahedi never fully bought into the SAA methodology. "I was a mediocre 12-stepper," he admits. "It didn't really make sense to me -- it made sense intellectually, as a concept, but I never really understood what the steps meant. One said to go to everyone you'd hurt and apologize. How am I supposed to do that? Everyone I've ever hurt in any way? Do I give money to runaway shelters? Do I give money to prostitutes on the street?"

In the end, it wasn't SAA that changed Zahedi's life. "I started appreciating the advantages and virtues of being with someone in a healthy way," he says. "I wanted it so much that when I did meet someone, I tried really hard to make it happen."

Zahedi met his current girlfriend in 1997, and he claims he hasn't been with a prostitute since. Although he gave up attending SAA meetings around that time, he borrowed many of the program's ideas to get himself straight. "Anything that's uplifting is an antidote to acting out," he says. "So I do things now that are uplifting, from yoga to meditation to making art."

Immersing himself in work, Zahedi shot a documentary, I Was Possessed by God, about a mushroom trip he had; acted in several independent films; and co-edited and co-starred in A Sign From God, a comedy of errors by A Little Stiff's co-director, Greg Watkins. In Sign, Zahedi plays a movie director who remains certain of divine intervention, even as his car, apartment, and girlfriend get carted away. In one particularly rueful scene, Zahedi meets with film producers and pitches several ridiculous projects, including a dwarf version of Little Womenand a teenage comedy about Adolf Hitler. But even with a score by renowned musician Jonathan Richman and a screening at Sundance in 2000, A Sign From Godproved less than a miracle at the box office.

Following a move to San Francisco in summer 1998, Zahedi recorded his magnum opus, In the Bathtub of the World. Filmed over the course of an entire year, the documentary distills Zahedi down to his essence, capturing all his neuroses and eccentricities at their most vivid. Adhering to director David Lynch's belief that the best scenes are the most embarrassing, Zahedi documents his tear-filled fights with his girlfriend, his bleary-eyed mushroom and Ecstasy trips, and his nervous upset stomach following an interview with altrock icon Frank Black. But Zahedi is interested in more than just titillation; he finds the poetic in the banal. At one point in the movie, he explains that he feels addicted to starting to read books, always hoping that the next one will provide him with the meaning of life.

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