Row over historical accuracy

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Michael Thurston

IRAN’S announcement that it will make its own film to counter the “distorted” thriller Argo is fuelling a debate about Hollywood and historical accuracy, sparked by Ben Affleck’s Oscar-tipped movie.

The film, which won the top two Golden Globes 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 in the 1979 hostage crisis.

But it openly takes liberties with the facts. For example, in a white-knuckle climax, 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, but “I’m concerned that some viewers will see the movie as fact”.

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. 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 more than 50 Americans hostage for more than a year.

CIA agent Mendez is shown flying in, giving the diplomats their false identities, and leading them through a series of made-up close shaves to freedom.

Canadian ambassador to Tehran Ken 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 Canada was not merely standing around watching events take place. The CIA was a junior partner.”

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

“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 film-maker Ataollah Salmanian. The film “can be an appropriate response to distorted movies such as Argo”, Iranian media reported.

Lijek poured barely disguised scorn on the Iranian plans. He said he did not know what to make of the film and… for starters, the facts were “messed up”. – Sapa-AFP

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