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.

"It's a really honest and really moving movie," says Joel Shepard, film and video curator for Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, which premiered In the Bathtub.

While the film may have shown that Zahedi was capable of wringing art out of a walk around the block, movie executives were less impressed. Of the 50 festivals to which Zahedi submitted the film, only five -- Los Angeles, Tiburon, Olympia, Athens (Ohio), and Infinity in Italy -- accepted it. The picture never received a full theatrical run, although it should be released on video by summertime.

"It's an indictment of the state of the indie scene when In the Bathtub is turned down by festivals," says director Richard Linklater, who cast Zahedi in his 2001 picture Waking Life. "There should be a fund to let Caveh do whatever he wants to do."

Zahedi in 1990, in a scene from A Little Stiff.
Paul Trapani
Zahedi in 1990, in a scene from A Little Stiff.
"I do things now that are uplifting, from yoga to 
meditation to making art."
Paul Trapani
"I do things now that are uplifting, from yoga to meditation to making art."

In the absence of such a fund, Zahedi's career may come down to a single film -- one that banks on the lurid appeal of the director's own sex life. For Zahedi to be mentioned in the same breath as peers like Haynes and Linklater -- not to mention his idols, Godard and John Cassavetes -- he needs I Am a Sex Addict to be a big success.


On a warm Saturday afternoon in March, Caveh Zahedi and his crew -- a cameraman, a sound recordist, a production manager, and a still photographer -- shoot scenes for I Am a Sex Addict. Due to a limited budget, the crew needs to film without permits in out-of-the-way places, where the process won't be interrupted by traffic or onlookers. Unfortunately, the red brick warehouses in the Bayshore District they've chosen to stand in for Paris in the early '80s sit next to a ship-repair factory. When the evening shift lets out, the workers dillydally by their cars, sneaking peeks at the cast, which consists of a half-dozen actresses made up to look like prostitutes. One woman wears a blouse as sheer as saran wrap; another sports shiny leather from head to toe. At one point, an actress in a skimpy red tube top and a wide-brimmed hat walks back from her car, her short skirt riding up to reveal her panties. It doesn't seem like the best atmosphere for a recovering sex addict.

"Who's next?" Zahedi calls. He films himself wandering by the prostitutes one at a time, asking them how much their services cost. While each woman has a different look -- haughty, sultry, uninterested, coy -- Zahedi shows no preference while in character, walking on without procuring any. But on two occasions after the digital video recorder comes to a stop, he lets down his guard, complimenting them on their performances.

At around 5 p.m., Zahedi's girlfriend shows up on the set. He kisses her hello, asks how her day was, and then returns to the task of re-creating his solicitations. She watches for a moment, before heading across the street to sit among the actresses waiting for their turns.

Zahedi asks one of the performers he'd complimented to change and go through a scene again. The woman wanders over to her car and slips free of her clothes -- right out in the open.

"Oh, my," Zahedi's girlfriend exclaims, "that girl's practically ... huh, well." She stops herself.

Zahedi lingers nearby, his steady gaze revealing nothing. Down the block, two workers from the ship-repair plant set up folding chairs to watch the filming. Apparently Zahedi's found a subject with broad appeal.


Last fall, Zahedi finally secured funding for I Am a Sex Addict, receiving $100,000 from the same individual who financed A Sign From God(and who wishes to remain anonymous). While the amount isn't nearly what Zahedi had hoped for, he's rewritten the script to reflect the smaller scope and budget, and has already shot a third of it. He's also altered the scenario to reflect the hard-won knowledge he's gained since 1993. He admits that he wrote the first version of Sex Addict as an attempt to outtransgress rivals like Haynes, whose shock-intensive 1991 film Poisonwas a favorite of critics.

"The first draft was kind of hostile," he recalls. "The humor would've appealed to angry twentysomethings. Back then, I had a kind of antagonistic relationship with the audience. Now I'm less angry or bitter and less interested in acting it out on screen."

As he continues to shoot, the pressure mounts. The deadline for acceptance of first-cuts for next year's Sundance Festival, a necessity for indie directors, is September 2002. Meanwhile, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts has chosen him for an artist residency in spring 2003, an honor that requires him to show a completed version of Sex Addict. (Past recipients of the residency have included filmmaker Charles Burnett, Village Voicecritic Jay Hoberman, and documentarian Ellen Bruno.) Such pressures used to send Zahedi running for a woman in a short skirt and high heels.

To make matters worse, Zahedi continues to struggle with his problem, fighting his desire to procure prostitutes, visit porn Web sites, and flirt with strangers. He's given up smoking pot, but he hasn't cast aside mushrooms just yet. Junk foods like pizza, potato chips, and candy bars -- which Zahedi feels are as indicative of unhappiness as his sexual transgressions -- still sneak into his diet.

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