The Canadian View of The Movie "ARGO"
CONFIDENTIAL MEMO TO BEN AFFLECK: When you’re up there on the stage of the Dolby Theatre accepting the Oscar for Best Picture of 2012, please put in a plug for a forthcoming documentary, featuring former Canadian ambassador to Iran Ken Taylor, that will tell the real facts that you scrambled on the way to making Argo a hugely entertaining winner.
How do I know about this documentary?
I heard about it recently over drinks with Taylor, the real hero of the escape-from-Iran saga, and Elena Semikina, one of the producers of the doc, details of which will soon be announced.
Our Man in Tehran is the working title. Semikina, a tall, blond former Miss Universe Canada and aspiring actress, is collaborating with Drew Taylor, a former triple-A baseball pitcher who has started a film acting and directing career. They’ve found a big-name partner in Rhombus Media, with Alliance Films as distributor.
The film will reveal the facts about Canada’s role in keeping safe for months six fugitives who escaped from the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 when militants seized control and held more than 50 U.S. citizens hostage for more than a year. It will also explain how the key decisions were made in Ottawa and show the leading role played by Taylor. The doc’s ultimate goal is to create public recognition of Canada’s role in the happy ending, which Argo fudged with fabrications to glorify the CIA and make your character, CIA operative Tony Mendez, the hero while taking the audience for an enjoyable ride.
Of course, we don’t know for sure that your movie’s name will be in the last envelope to be opened on Feb. 24 (which would make it the first Best Picture Oscar winner since Driving Miss Daisy without a matching Best Director nomination).
But last weekend the odds changed in your film’s favour. On Friday, as the subject of a tribute at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, you were still a scrappy underdog. But you rushed back to L.A., where Argo took the top prize at both the Producers Guild of America Awards on Saturday and the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday.
That double win was a game changer. True, Argo had already beaten Lincoln at the Golden Globes, but many smart insiders snicker at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association as a group whose members are less interested in cinematic art than in being granted interviews and having their pictures taken with the stars.
The guild awards are taken much more seriously as a sign of what Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters are thinking.
So now, pundits are predicting your Argo will knock off Lincoln and seven other Best Picture nominees.
When it had its world premiere as a gala at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, you’ll recall that Taylor (portrayed in the film by Victor Garber) was conspicuously absent.
That’s because, as I reported in the Star a few days later, Taylor had not been invited by Warner Bros. And his Toronto friends were offended by the way your film downplayed his role in the dramatic escape from Iran of the six fugitives. A postscript printed onscreen at the end of the movie claimed CIA agents were the real heroes of the escape but allowed Canada to take credit, as a result of which Taylor received a huge number of citations.
As I reported in the Star a week later, you quickly attempted to fix the problem by calling Taylor to say: “If you have issues, I’ll address them.”
Taylor and his wife, Pat Taylor, were flown from their New York home to L.A. for a private screening. The offensive postscript was killed and replaced by a new one, drafted by Taylor, who was interviewed for the DVD version. In October, an invitational screening in Washington was co-hosted by Warner Bros. and Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., Gary Doer, with the Taylors as honoured guests.
That’s all very sweet, but millions of people who see Argo will still be getting a bogus version of events, with Canada deprived of proper credit.
Let us consider just a few inaccuracies. There was no crisis at the airport as depicted in the movie’s climactic scene. No one was considering closing the Canadian embassy, as a plot point indicated. And the fugitives never went to the bazaar, as shown in a grossly racist scene.
As Taylor says, Canada had responsibility for taking care of the fugitives and the CIA was a junior partner. Much of the behind-the-scenes drama took place in Ottawa. Joe Clark, Canada’s prime minister at the time, took a big risk by opting to shelter the U.S. fugitives.
“We weren’t moved around like chess pieces by the CIA,” is how Taylor puts it. “Canada could have done this alone.”
One can’t help but wonder why the highly inventive Argo surges ahead while accusations of factual inaccuracy have knocked Zero Dark Thirty out of the race for the top Oscar. (Zero director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal have been maligned for distorting historical facts concerning the use of torture in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.)
Influential people in the U.S. are nervous about torture, but it seems hardly any one cares if Argo is turned into a feel-good saga about the brilliant teamwork of Washington and Hollywood, while Canada plays the part of humble and slightly dim-witted servant.
But there’s an easy way you can still make nice with Canada: offer to be the narrator of Our Man in Tehran.