On the recent 35th anniversary of the Iran Hostage crisis the CIA took to twitter to break down what was “real” v “reel” in the movie Argo. This month I attended the special Arts Centre Gold Coast screening of Our Man in Tehran a documentary which outlines the real life story of the events which unfolded in Tehran in 1979.
At the screening, Richard Featherstone, President of the Gold Coast Film Festival welcomed Patricia Taylor and her husband Ken, the former Canadian Ambassador to Tehran who answered questions from the audience. In October 1979, the pair famously, and without hesitation hid two of six US Diplomats in their home (not all six as portrayed in Argo).
This is one of the many “real” facts presented in this 85 minute documentary. The filmmakers keep things fairly traditional in the story telling with straightforward interviews, incredible archival footage of Tehran depicting the Shah’s dramatic departure and the Ayatollah’s much celebrated arrival. The footage of political discussions of both the Canadian and US Presidents and their parliamentary posse is real and fascinating (yes it really is interesting) and the thankful omission of cheesy re-enactments all make you feel like you are gathered around the dinner table for story time.
The documentary starts with the history of Iran and the leadup to the exile of the Shah after fleeing the revolution. It then moves to a retelling of what happened when students seized the US embassy holding 52 US citizens hostage for over fourteen months. As you may know if you have seen the movie Argo, six escaped and fled to the residences of John and Zena Sheardown and of Ken and Patricia Taylor.
The story then reveals their involvement as de-facto spies for the CIA, watching movements of the feared guards at the embassy and the airport and planning escape routes for Operation Eagle Claw the unfortunate failed first attempt to rescue the 52 hostages.
The film also introduces William Dougherty a CIA agent at the US embassy; he opens up about how he survived being tortured after the rebels pieced together shredded documents revealing his true occupation. We also meet the “real” Tony Mendez the character played by Ben Affleck in the movie that came up with the idea of creating a fake movie cover to rescue the six hostages.
As Ken Taylor indicated in Q+A after the screening the rescue idea was an elaborate ruse and the movie itself was entertainment at its best but they both worked – that’s Hollywood. In truth this documentary is far more fascinating while Argo makes your heart race with anticipation Our Man In Tehran gets the brain ticking. The real characters are far more interesting and very witty; you could spend hours over a Vodka Martini listening to their stories.