Film

Iran's response film to 'inaccurate', award-winning 'Argo'

Xan Brooks

Tehran-based filmmaker Ataollah Salmanian says "The General Staff" will be an appropriate response to Ben Affleck's "ahistorical" thriller.

'Argo' director Ben Affleck and producers Grant Heslov and George Clooney at Sunday's Golden Globe Award ceremony. (AFP)

Filmgoers troubled by factual inaccuracies in the Golden Globe-winning hostage thriller Argo are advised to hold fire until The General Staff arrives to set the record straight.

Conceived as a "response" to Ben Affleck's Oscar-nominated take on the 1979 hostage crisis – it promises a tale of cowardly US diplomats who are treated with kindness and eventually delivered to safety by their Iranian hosts. Viewers should note that Iran's idea of a happy ending may well differ from Hollywood's.

According to Mehr News Agency, The General Staff will be produced by the state-affiliated Arts Bureau and directed by the Tehran-based filmmaker Ataollah Salmanian. "The film, which will be a big production, should be an appropriate response to the ahistoric film Argo," the director explained.

Backed by Warner Bros, Argo portrays the behind-the-scenes adventures of six stranded US diplomats gone to ground in the Canadian ambassador's home in the immediate wake of Iran's Islamic revolution. The film has been met with glowing reviews and is nominated for seven Oscars, including best picture.

By concentrating on the daring CIA-backed mission to rescue the diplomats, it puts a positive spin on an event that is still widely regarded as a US foreign policy disaster.

But Argo has faced criticism for its alleged historical inaccuracies and for claiming that British and New Zealand officials initially turned away the US refugees.

Banned in Iran
"My immediate reaction on hearing about this was one of outrage," said Sir John Graham, Britain's then ambassador to Iran. "I have since simmered down, but am still very distressed that the filmmakers should have got it so wrong."

Affleck's thriller is banned in Iran, where it is officially viewed as "anti-Iranian". Mohammad Hosseini, the country's minister of culture and Islamic guidance, has described it as "an offensive act" motivated by "evil intentions".

It seems safe to assume the authorities will be more approving of The General Staff, which sets out to tackle the same material from the official Iranian perspective. Early evidence suggests that Salmanian's film may opt to ignore the rescue mission altogether in favour of a parallel hostage drama.

"The movie … is about the 20 American hostages who were delivered to the United States by the revolutionaries," the director told Mehr. It is thought this refers to the case of the US diplomats who were freed as a humanitarian gesture shortly after the start of the 444-day crisis.

Salmanian claims he has already written the script, but production on the picture has yet to begin.

Iran scored a victory at last year's Oscar ceremony when its official submission, Asghar Farhadi's acclaimed drama, A Separation, won the best foreign language film award. "Many Iranians all over the world are watching us and I imagine them to be very happy," Farhadi said in his acceptance speech.

"They are happy because, at a time when talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of Iran is spoken here through her glorious culture."

It remains to be seen whether Salmanian will have the opportunity to give a similar speech at next year's Academy Awards. – © Guardian News and Media 2013

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