Ben Affleck changed film Argo after meeting former Canadian ambassador to Iran

Update: Just found this video of Ben Affleck introducing “Argo” at private Washington D.C. screening with some of the former hostages and even the current CIA Director General Petraeus present plus an acknowledgement to Ambassador Taylor and his wife Pat.

As part of my research for this report, I found & watched this amazing & insightful 1980 PBS documentary (~54 mins long), “Canadian Caper: 6 Americans escape from Iran with the help from the CIA and the Canadian“. You can hear directly from the mouths of the six escaped American hostages, Ambassador Taylor, and other Canadian embassy staffs. Click here to jump directly to where the doc starts to talk about the Canadians’ involvement. Canadians should be really proud of what we did to help our American friends in need.

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Making a Hollywood film is a massive and expensive undertaking so it comes as a surprise that star & director Ben Affleck has agreed to change his latest Oscar buzz-worthy film Argo (opened Friday), a film “based on Tony Mendez‘s account of the rescue of six U.S. diplomats—with help from Canada—from Tehran, Iran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis“. After meeting Calgary-born Kenneth D. Taylor, former Canadian ambassador to Iran from 1977 to 1979, Affleck has decided to have Taylor rewrite the postscript of the film “reportedly at considerable cost to the studio“.

Calgary Herald reports, (emphasis and commentaries added)

Unfortunately, as is often the case with Hollywood, Argo trumpets America’s involvement in the caper at the expense of other players, specifically the Canadian Embassy. But, as is perhaps less often the case with Hollywood, when Affleck learned the film may have given Canada, and Taylor in particular, short shrift, he invited the former ambassador and his wife to L.A. to watch the film and eventually make changes to the postscript.

I don’t focus my views on my own involvement,” says Taylor, in an phone interview from his home in New York City. “The entire Canadian Embassy was at play. I don’t think it gives credit to Canada. And I made that pretty clear, I think.

Of course, by the time Taylor and his wife Pat watched Argo in L.A. last month, the actual film couldn’t be changed.So Affleck suggested Taylor rewrite the postscript, reportedly at considerable cost to the studio.

[Kempton’s note: Once Affleck realized the mistake, it was an honourable thing for him to do to try to right a wrong. It is important to note that the postscript is rewritten by Taylor. See next paragraph for how diplomatically he put things. Here is a link to an authoritative account in President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 Remarks when he presented the Congressional Gold Medal to Taylor.]

Taylor rewrote the postscript to emphasize collaboration. According to the Toronto Star it now reads: “The involvement of the CIA complemented efforts of the Canadian Embassy to free the six held in Tehran. To this day the story stands as an enduring model of international co-operation between governments.

[Kempton’s note: What a classy way to put things. Ambassador Taylor really make us Canadians proud in his measured words. Wow, “enduring model of international co-operation between governments.” Nothing fancy about the risks he and his wife took, it is the Canadian Embassy.]

[…] Earlier this week, Taylor went to Washington for the movie’s premiere, which was also to include a private screening and reception at the Canadian Embassy. According to media reports, Affleck praised him on the red carpet before the screening, suggesting he was “a very clear hero.”

Toronto Star reports and indirectly laying the blame of the film’s inaccuracy on the screenwriter and director,

If anyone had bothered to ask Antonio “Tony” Mendez, the real-life CIA agent portrayed by Ben Affleck in the new thriller Argo, about Canada’s contribution to the rescue of six American diplomats from Iran in 1980, there would never have been any trouble.

“Canada was still the real hero in the whole thing,” said Mendez over lunch back in September, before Argo had ever screened to the public. He gives particular credit to former Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor. “Ken took a huge risk and he handled it wonderfully. He got the blame and he got the glory.”

[…] “When the six were seeking asylum, they were turned away from so many places, but when they came to the Canadians, (immigration officer) John Sheardon just said, ‘What took you so long?’ and welcome them in. He didn’t even have to ask Ken. He knew he’d be on side.”

In an earlier post-TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) September report in Toronto Star,

The old postscript sent the message that, for political reasons, Canada took the credit. A sarcastic kicker noted that Taylor received 112 citations. The clear implication was that he did not deserve them.

When Affleck phoned Taylor, he said, “Frankly, if this bothers you, then I’ll change it.”

[…] “I expressed my concern with certain details in the movie,” Taylor told me just before leaving his hotel to catch a flight back to New York. “In reality, Canada was responsible for the six and the CIA was a junior partner. But I realize this is a movie and you have to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. Ben was very gracious and we got along really well. There are a few points I want to address. Now Ben and I both feel free to talk about them.”

So well, in fact, that Taylor and his wife taped a commentary for the extra features on the DVD version of Argo, which will not be released until 2013. [Kempton’s note: This will be really cool!]

According to Taylor, several details of the plot are pure fiction. There was never any crisis about getting the plane tickets for the six, as in the climatic scenes of Argo, because he bought three sets of plane tickets, paid for by Pat Taylor. Nor did Taylor ever threaten to close down the Canadian embassy, leaving his secret U.S. house guests with nowhere to hide. Nor did the six ever go to a bazaar.“I would never have allowed that,” says Taylor.

And oh, by the way, while in Tehran, Mendez was taken care of by the Canadian embassy.“What matters to me is the essence and importance of diplomacy,” Taylor sums up. “It matters more now than ever before. It’s a risky business but vitally important.

“You can’t just close the office,” he adds, in an apparent swipe at Ottawa’s recent decision to close the Canadian embassy in Iran.

[Kempton’s note: This means a lot coming from Ambassador Taylor given his experiences in a previous dangerous time. It confirms my thinking it was wrong for the Harper government to shutdown the Canadian embassy in Iran, in fact co-incidentally on the same day Argo opened at TIFF!]For Ben Affleck, what counts is this: “It’s important to tell stories about how two countries worked together.”

Fade out on Hollywood’s real-life bromance.

From a Toronto Star movie review,

But then “69 Days Later” appears on the screen, and the Hollywood play time Taylor speaks of really kicks in. From this point on, as a bearded and bossy Affleck takes charge — under the indulgent command of his CIA superior, well played by Bryan Cranston — Argo becomes almost total fiction.

The third act is chock full of thriller clichés, including suspicious passport control officers, miracle computer file transfers (and this is 1980!) and airport tarmac chases. They all do what they’re supposed to do, just like a Big Mac sliding down your throat.

Worth reading research materials:

Toronto Star, Oct 7, 2012, “‘Argo’: Former ambassador Ken Taylor sets the record straight

Toronto Star, Sept 12, 2012, “TIFF 2012: How Canadian hero Ken Taylor was snubbed by Argo” (although not used/referenced in this report, this article is worth reading)

Toronto Star, Sept 12, 2012, “Ben Affleck changes Argo postscript for Ken Taylor” (although not used/referenced in this report, this article is worth reading)

Concordia University, Sep 2011, “Former Canadian ambassador Kenneth D. Taylor delivers Henri Habib Distinguished Lecture.

Check out these books

Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History” is a Sept 2012 book by Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio

Our Men In Tehran” is a 2010 book by Robert Wright. Check out the book description for more info and the reviews for more info. Toronto Star reports, “But Our Man in Tehran, a 2010 book by Trent University professor Robert Wright, revealed that Taylor played a bigger role than was known at the time. The book claimed (and Taylor confirmed) that he was spying for the U.S. throughout the hostage crisis, at the request of Jimmy Carter (then U.S. president) and with the approval of Joe Clark (then Canadian prime minister).

NOTE: This article is cross posted by me at examiner.com

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