x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Iran planning a cinematic response to Golden Globe winner Argo

The film, The General Staff, is to correct the 'historical distortions' in the Oscar-nominated thriller about hostage rescue, Tehran says.

Bryan Cranston and Ben Affleck in the Oscar-nominated Argo, a rescue thriller about the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis
Bryan Cranston and Ben Affleck in the Oscar-nominated Argo, a rescue thriller about the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis
Iran has announced that it is planning its own big-budget hostage drama as a cinematic antidote to Argo, Ben Affleck's Oscar-nominated thriller about the CIA's rescue of six United States diplomats from revolutionary Tehran.
The film will correct what Tehran said were numerous historical distortions in Hollywood's version of the takeover of the US embassy by militant students in 1979, when 52 embassy workers were held for 444 days, an event seared on the US psyche.
Iran has provided few details about its proposed movie, other than its bland title, The General Staff, and that its writer-director is Ataollah Salmanian, a minor figure in his country's generally acclaimed film industry.
His project "should be an appropriate response to Argo", he told Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency. But it seems Mr Salmanian's venture will ignore the rescue mission depicted in Mr Affleck's film in favour of another sidebar to the overall hostage drama that Iran believes casts it in a far better light.
"The movie . is about 20 American hostages who were delivered to the United States by the revolutionaries," Mr Salmanian told Mehr.
This seemingly refers to 13 American hostages freed as a supposedly humanitarian gesture within weeks of the embassy takeover on November 4, 1979. Eight were African-Americans, which Tehran said it was releasing in sympathy for "oppressed minorities" in the US. The other five were women, freed as a demonstration of the "special status" accorded to women under Islamic rule.
Washington viewed the move as a crude Iranian publicity stunt to polarise American public opinion.The hostage-takers seemed to believe that black Americans would identify with their "anti-imperial" struggle and take to the streets all over the US to support Iran's cause.
Another hostage, Richard Queen, who was suffering from multiple sclerosis, was released several months later. Earlier, like other captives, he had been subjected to a terrifying mock execution: an episode unlikely to be included in Mr Salmanian's film. A single African-American man and two white women, viewed as spies, were kept for the full duration of the crisis, which led Washington, within months, to sever ties with Tehran that have yet to be restored.
Argo is banned in Iran but it has been seen by many Iranians in bootleg copies.
Mr Affleck, who studied Middle Eastern studies at university, said he tried to make Argo as historically accurate as possible and never intended for his film to be politicised.
High-placed US officials involved in the crisis at the time said Argo took some liberties for dramatic effect but argued that the characters and settings were authentic, along with the basic essence of the story.
Filming will begin within weeks if the necessary funds are provided by the Art Bureau, which is affiliated with Iran's Islamic Ideology Dissemination Organisation.
Also in the pipeline is an Iranian TV series about the storming of the US embassy, called The Broken Paw, which is also likely to stoke the clash of historical narratives.
It screenwriter, Farhad Tohidi, has acknowledged he will have to watch Argo, albeit apparently solely in the spirit of academic research.
mtheodoulou@thenational.ae