First Published: 2013-01-17

 

Fact or fiction? Argo fuels Iran history debate

 

Iran's announcement it will make its own film to counter distorted thriller is fueling debate about Hollywood, historical accuracy.

 

Middle East Online

By Michael Thurston - LOS ANGELES

Two Golden Globes, more prizes likely

Iran's announcement that it will make its own film to counter the "distorted" thriller "Argo" is fueling a debate about Hollywood and historical accuracy, sparked by Ben Affleck's Oscar-tipped movie.

The film, which won the top two Golden Globes last weekend and is nominated for seven prizes at next month's Academy Awards, tells the story of a bold CIA operation to rescue six US diplomats trapped by the 1979 hostage crisis.

But it openly takes liberties with the facts. In a white-knuckle climax, for example, Iranian guards speed along a runway next to a plane carrying the escaping diplomats, threatening to stop it from taking off. That didn't happen.

Canada's role in giving refuge to the diplomats in Tehran, and securing their safe passage out of Iran, is significantly underplayed. The mission is seen as largely the work of CIA agent Tony Mendez, played by Affleck.

Mark Lijek, one of the six diplomats helped to freedom, says the actor-director is justified in massaging the facts to create a more compelling story -- although he acknowledges some concerns.

"I understand it was necessary to dramatize the facts in order to create the atmosphere a thriller requires," he said after "Argo" won best picture (drama) and best director awards for Affleck at the Golden Globes.

"This film is about Tony, a slice of the whole if you will ... I do not think it would have been possible to make this film without the dramatization," he added.

The movie recounts the long-classified CIA plot to extract the diplomats by pretending that they are part of a Hollywood film crew scouting for locations for a science fiction flick.

In the film, they are given refuge by the Canadian ambassador to Tehran after escaping through a back exit as the US embassy was stormed by Islamist students, who went on to hold over 50 Americans hostage for more than a year.

CIA agent Mendez -- now in his 70s, and who spoke at last Sunday's Golden Globes ceremony -- is shown flying in, giving the diplomats their false identities, and leading them through a series of close shaves to freedom.

These include a made-up scene in a Tehran market where they are surrounded by an angry mob but just escape with their lives, as well as a fake tense scene at the airport, and the fictional runway chase.

They are also shown holed up at the residence of the Canadian ambassador to Tehran, Ken Taylor. In reality they were split into two groups, one with Taylor and the others with another Canadian diplomat.

Taylor, now 77, has not kicked up a major fuss. But he has made his views clear regarding some aspects of the movie's accuracy.

"The movie's fun, it's thrilling, it's pertinent, it's timely," he told the Toronto Star. "But look, Canada was not merely standing around watching events take place. The CIA was a junior partner," he said.

Lijek said he was comfortable overall with "Argo," although he does have some concerns.

"The liberties with fact in the airport exit do not really bother me," he said of the movie's climax. "It makes for a good story."

However, "I do realize and am concerned that some viewers will see the movie as fact," he added. "That is unfortunate but Affleck and the writer are not responsible for our failure to teach history anymore."

Days after Affleck's film won gold at the Globes, Tehran announced that it was making its own movie about the American hostage drama during the 1979 Islamic revolution.

"The movie is about 20 American hostages who were handed over to the US embassy by Iranian revolutionaries at the beginning of the (Islamic) revolution," said Iranian actor and filmmaker Ataollah Salmanian.

The film "can be an appropriate response to distorted movies such as 'Argo'," he was quoted as saying in Iranian media reports.

Lijek poured barely-disguised scorn on the Iranian plans, saying he did not know what to make of the film and that, for starters, the facts were "messed up."

"The director talks about 20 Americans being released," he said. "In fact, (Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah) Khomeini authorized the release of 13 women and African-Americans early on as a gesture of Islamic charity. So it is not clear even what he is talking about."

One report suggested the film would be about the more than 50 hostages left behind in Tehran, and "will paint a rosy picture of their idyllic life in a resort-like setting at the embassy compound," he said.

But "I don't really see how they could make it about us," he added. "Are they going to change the ending and have the security forces shoot down the Airbus?"

 

10 killed in Toronto “deliberate” van attack

Yemen Huthi political leader killed in coalition raid

Rouhani warns Trump against betraying nuclear deal

Saudi king to launch 'entertainment city'

Iraq’s ex-football stars from sports to politics

Syria's Idlib 'big new challenge' for international community

UNRWA chief says Palestinian aid $200 million short since Trump cuts

Bad memories resurface at Raqa’s mass grave

Turkey newspaper chief slams journalist terror trial

Setback for Yemen rebels after strike takes out leader

Saudi issues Islamic sukuk sale to finance deficit

Yarmuk, an epicentre of Syria's bloody conflict

Egypt’s Eurobond succeeds but risks remain

Egypt former anti-corruption chief gets five years jail

Philippines apologises to Kuwait over 'maid rescues'

Iran urges EU not to pay Trump ‘ransom’ over nuclear deal

UAE to finance project to rebuild Mosul's Grand al-Nuri Mosque

EU, UN begin major conference for Syria aid

New tensions rise between old rivals Turkey and Greece

Nine people killed in Toronto van attack

Syria security chief refuses Lebanon court appearance

Air raid kills dozens at Yemen wedding

Algeria draws Europe’s ire by cutting imports, boosting trade with China

Russia says no decision yet on delivery of S-300 missiles to Syria

French MPs adopt controversial immigration bill

Qatar Airways ‘robust’ despite large losses

IS threatens to attack Iraqi polling station

Jordan sounds the alarm over rising online crimes

Yemen forces clash with jihadists in Taez

Paris attacks suspect gets 20 years over Brussels shootout

Jailed Egyptian photographer wins UN press freedom prize

14 Saddam-era officials still jailed in Iraq

Gaza death toll rises to 40 as Palestinian dies of wounds

HRW says African migrants face rape, torture in Yemen

Four British pilgrims killed in Saudi road crash

HRW warns Egypt fight against IS threatens humanitarian crisis

Iran, Israel trade blame for surge in hostilities over Syria

Iran vows to resume enrichment if US quits nuclear deal

UAE accuses Qatari jets of ‘chasing’ passenger flight

Israel rubbishes claims Mossad behind Malaysia assassination

Syrian refugees are not going home anytime soon

Resumption of direct flights from Moscow brings hope to Egypt’s tourism sector

Saudi finalises drone regulation after security alarm

Will Lebanon have more women MPs after May 6 poll?

Saudi shoots down ‘toy drone’