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Fact or fiction? 'Argo' fuels Iran history debate


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Ben Affleck shown in a scene from the movie "Argo."

LOS ANGELES: 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 told AFP 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?”

Comments (13) Closed

HNY2013 Jan 18, 2013 10:44pm
So who is the super power? Iran or USSR?
Zaid Jan 19, 2013 02:38pm
I never watched the movie and I'm 110 % sure that the movie goes to the american favour.Now a days USA is trying by hook or crook to spread propaganda against Iran as much as they can. Another prediction this movie will definitely win Oscar,because history has proven that movies like these pictured by Hollywood always wins to show that american cause is based on justice.One thing I suggest,please don't believe what you see and it is hard to find justice now a days. P.S: I'm not Irani patriot but I just tried all the readers to be aware
Anant Jan 19, 2013 01:00pm
I have very strong reservations about movies based on history or important events with a disclaimer that a) it is dramatized b) is a work of fiction The disclaimer usually ignored by most movie goers and the content of movie end up becoming in some sens the defining history. I have seen such movies made in India and was completely aghast at the treatment of historical characters in 'Jodha Akbar' and 'Ashoka'.
Saurabh Jan 19, 2013 10:28am
Only if the producer does not project the film directly or indirectly as 'based on facts'
Mustafa Razavi Jan 19, 2013 11:55am
Not all societies are shallow enough to enjoy lies.
Mustafa Razavi Jan 19, 2013 12:04pm
Winning wars on the movie screen that they could not win on the battle field is a business for Hollywood, 100 minutes of false glory for $5.00, remember how one Rambo brought the entire Vietnamese army to it's knees when half a million Rambos couldn't accomplish that on the battle field and the cost was a lot higher than $5.00.
Mustafa Razavi Jan 19, 2013 12:08pm
Iran and Taliban?, vow you are confused!!. You are probably going to enjoy that movie. Remember there are no Oscars for watching the movie.
Raza Jan 18, 2013 08:55am
Looking forward to see the Iranian rendition.
Ali Jan 18, 2013 11:22am
Americans never admit their defeat, in Irans case even in a so called cold war; the fact is US has been defeated. Their movies are based on illusions they hold of being a so called super power, in realityUS is no longer a super power.
rajiv Jan 18, 2013 11:14am
Article is clueless to the fact that movie credits say that its been dramatised and some situations are played with... producers been honest... and it was not an documentary but a movie, never forget that... about iranian version... first it will never come out, its just the normal talk that all emotional people do, then if at all it comes out, it will be hit only with Talibaan... after spending a lot of time with iranians studying here in delhi i think even Iranian wont see it as i feel iranians are very intelligent and smart people
zahid Jan 18, 2013 01:46pm
Ok, so plane chase didn't happen. So what? Everything else is accurate. Movie has to have some thrill. The main thing is they got their men out. Can we say the same about our government if we were in the same situation?
JDavis Jan 18, 2013 02:26pm
Everyone got out eventually. No one died except 8 soldiers sent in to rescue them. And they died in an accident due to poor planning and execution. The hostages (many who were CIA) were taken prisoner during a revolution against a dictator the CIA had imposed on them many years before, while the guys who escaped would have been released anyway. It's really a pathetic situation to dramatize when you get down to it, but to not even get it right? It's like much of the history Americans are taught. Just so much distortion and lies by a government that brings these things down on us.
JP Singh Jan 18, 2013 04:26pm
Enjoy the movie as a work of fiction -- why bug yourself with realities of life.