Despite its tumultuousness, 2020 and the first six weeks of 2021 have been productive for filmmaker Caveh Zahedi.
Currently, he is making a daily podcast, 365 Stories I Want To Tell You Before We Both Die, where he narrates stories from his life in less-than five minute daily episodes. The episodes range in topics: from his job at Yale’s AV department to his run-ins with bullies, DMT and Richard Linklater.
The short, insightful episodes are similar to Zahedi’s Awkward Celebrity Encounters, which take listeners through cringeworthy experiences with people like Frank Black, Allen Ginsberg and Kyle MacLachlan.
Zahedi’s films, while critically acclaimed, are not widely known. His singular documentary style, which covers topics like sex addiction and politics, can supply enough honesty to turn off mainstream audiances. But he is considered a genius by people like Little Women director Greta Gerwig (who wrote her master’s thesis on Zahedi’s filmography) and the Safdie brothers, the directing duo behind Good Time and Uncut Gems.
In 2015, Zahedi created a show for BRIC TV about its own making, The Show About The Show. It’s equal parts 8 1/2 and Keeping Up With the Kardashians — an intoxicating mixture that forces viewers to watch it until the end, like slowing down to see the wreckage of a car crash, pleasing some indescribable impulse.
The first season stays true to its mission by documenting and recreating the making of each previous episode.
The story is guided by Zahedi’s narration, often delivered right into the camera and in front of a black backdrop. His memory of what happened during the making of the previous episode is broken up by reenactments, often performed by people playing themselves.
As the first season ends and the second one begins, the show turns into reality TV, following Zahedi’s dissolving marriage, friendships and missed opportunities. What makes the show so compelling, hilarious and tragic is that it’s all real (or at least as real and accurate as Zahedi’s memory of last episode’s behind-the-scenes drama). The stakes are astronomical by the end of the second season, which culminates in an emotional scene depicting the end of a marriage with a tender, gentle eye.
Now divorced, he remains faithful to the show and says he does not resent it despite the toll it has taken on his personal life. Zahedi compared the show’s making to a cathedral being built for “a higher purpose” that he doesn’t completely understand.
“I feel like it’s a religious act,” he said. “I have to just be faithful to it and shepherd it into existence.”
Its third season is “in the works,” but has been delayed because of coronavirus. It will chronicle the making of the second season, beginning with its filming and ending at its release.
Zahedi said he hopes he can get the show back on its original course. The divorce, in many ways, was a detour and became its focus. Feasibly, future incarnations of the show will stay up-to-date with Zahedi’s life, and won’t require him to relay things that happened three years prior.
“I’d like to press a reset button and start again with a new chapter,” he said.
Much of the show is about BRIC TV and Zahedi’s encounters with former executive producer Aziz Isham. But, Zahedi is unsure who will fund and back the third season.
“I am currently looking for a home for it,” he said.
Zahedi’s intrigues stretch into music as well, beginning with artists like Jethro Tull, David Bowie and later Bob Dylan. But, his biggest musical love, which has not lost its impact since his first listen, is the Pixies.
“I would say that the Pixies have been my longest abiding love, and I still listen to them all the time,” he said. “And I think there’s nothing better in the universe than Frank Black.”
Ever since his first entry point into the Pixies’ discography, Zahedi has tried to work with the elusive frontman on “anything.” He pitched music videos and documentaries to Frank Black, but nothing seems to peak the interest of his favorite songwriter.
Furthermore, Zahedi discussed interviewing Daniel Johnston sometime in 1999. During the conversation he asked Johnston about being “schizophrenic.” Johnston quickly corrected Zahedi by repeating, “I’m not schizophrenic, I’m manic depressive.” Zahedi apologized, but Johnston allegedly repeated the same, corrective sentence over and over again, ultimately demolishing the interview.
“I really think I offended him quite a bit,” Zahedi said. “It was a painful and difficult conversation.”
The unique filmmaker with tendencies to cross ethical boundaries, is currently toying with the idea of adapting James Joyce’s modernist landmark Ulysses.
As an undergraduate student at Yale University, he read Ulysses and immediately fell in love with its conversion of an average day into something sacred through its lens of epic dimensions. For a senior project, Zahedi pitched a film adaptation of one chapter in the novel, which was turned down.
But, the tenacious creative pursued on. He shifted to the idea of adapting it as an 18-hour TV show; each episode covering a chapter of the book. Once the Irish Film Board, who Zahedi approached to fund the project, asked for him to recruit 17 other filmmakers of note, he refused.
Zahedi has recently returned to the idea, and is currently “preparing” an adaptation.
I for one, hope someone funds the ambitious project just to see Zahedi’s version of Leopold Bloom, especially during the fireworks scene.
Zahedi is clearly not out of ideas and has assured fans of more things to come.
For those needing to catch up, his films are available on streaming services as well as in a neatly packaged and arranged retrospective spanning his entire career by Factory 25. Both seasons of The Show About The Show can be found on YouTube and Vimeo.
Watch the first episode here.