Former diplomats in Iranian hostage crisis Michael Shenstone (left) and Robert Anders (right) discuss Argo at Trinity College
Wednesday night’s conversation between former diplomats Robert Anders and Michael Shenstone, hosted by the U.S. Consulate and the University of Toronto International Relations Society, was an exercise in displaying Hollywood’s manipulation of historical reality.
Argo tells the story of six American diplomats trapped in the middle of Iran’s 1979 revolution. While Iranian demonstrators stormed the American embassy demanding the return of the exiled Shah from the U.S., six diplomats managed to escape the compound.
One of these diplomats was Robert Anders. Michael Shenstone was Director-General of Foreign Affairs for Africa and the Middle East. He co-ordinated with the U.S. to arrange the diplomats’ eventual exit from Iran.
The diplomats holed up in the residence of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor. The CIA’s outlandish scenario for getting them out of the country was to mount a fake movie called “Argo.” A CIA operative entered the country under the pretense of searching for film locations and left with his team of six fellow movie-types--the diplomats.
Such is the basic plot of Argo, which is based mostly in reality. Some elements of the movie are fictionalized, others are exaggerated. Cinema is, after all, an art of deception.
Argo’s dramatic tension relies on the diplomats’ escape from Iran becoming most tenuous at the airport. If their cover was blown, not only would they likely be killed, but the U.S. and Canada would face extreme embarrassment, the security of the hostages would be jeopardized, and Canada’s Embassy would come under threat.
The six diplomats were privy to the screenplay. One scene at the airport has the diplomats pulled aside for questioning and the outcome looks bleak. Joe Stafford, a diplomat whose prominence was exaggerated by Anders’ account, saves the crew by convincingly explaining Argo’s storyboards in Farsi. When the diplomats asked about this fictionalized scene, the producers replied, “We have to set up conflict.”
“It was much more difficult coming up here through Washington,” quipped Anders on Wednesday.
Thus there was no last-minute call to the White House to confirm the plane tickets, as shown in the movie. An Iranian official’s phone call to Studio 6, Argo’s Hollywood production unit, during the crisis, happened at some point, and went smoothly. But the chase scene? “Pure Hollywood,” said Anders.
Anders appeared unperturbed by the movie’s take on the story, said he enjoyed the film, and reminded the audience that Argo is not a documentary.