Canada, 95 min.
Dir. Igal Hecht
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)
The Iranian Hostage Crisis has been a hot topic in the movies lately. Argo tells the Hollywood version and Our Man in Tehran provides a Canuck corrective, but The Sheik gives a perspective that hasn’t been told before. Igal Hecht’s The Sheik, which had an energetic Hot Docs premiere at Hot Docs Saturday night complete with camels and belly dancers, shows how professional wrestling laid a smackdown on the Iranian Hostage Crisis.
The talking heads explain how The Iron Sheik (né Khosrow Vaziri) embodied the cultural zeitgeist as the villainous foil to the all-American boys of the WWF (World Wrestling Federation). This biographical doc chronicles Vaziri’s tumultuous career from four-time AAU Champ to WWF World Champion to social media sass-king. Various parties from the wrestling world explain how the skilfully planned championship match between the Iron Sheik and Hulk Hogan marked a turning point in professional wrestling and made the sport a cultural phenomenon. American xenophobia fueled the Iron Sheik’s caricature of foreign evil, yet The Sheik tells how the anger swelling in the masses—hilariously embodied in one stark-raving granny—gave both the WWF and the Sheik the right momentum for a lucrative career.
This warts-and-all tale charts a familiar rise-and-fall narrative as it explores Vaziri’s downturn. The footage of his battles with drug abuse is frank and revealing, as are the interviews with his family members. Hecht gives The Sheik a rousing finale as the film tells how Toronto’s Magen brothers (Jian and Page) removed the Sheik from his funk and revived his stock by turning his outrageous persona into a Twitter sensation. The final act features some great Rob Ford jokes.
The Sheik grows a bit weary as it culminates in its comeback tale—the film feels overdrawn even at 95 minutes—and the humble production values could better serve the film on its upcoming Vimeo release, but it’s often uproariously funny thanks to the boisterous presence of the Iron Sheik himself. The Sheik is no jabroni.