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"ARGO" awakens personal memories of times in Iran

  • Blog Post by: Barry ZeVan
  • October 24, 2012 - 4:20 PM

I’ve never “piggybacked” a topic from my Star Tribune webcasts, but I feel this week’s “a senior moment” webcast subject matter is pertinent enough to current events to warrant addressing the same subject here. To not usurp my friend, Star Tribune film critic, Colin Covert, my own take on the new Ben Affleck film “Argo”, is it’s one of the most powerful and best films ever produced.

Having actually lived close to those times in Iran as part of my life and work, I noticed one surprising error in an otherwise meticulously-crafted film, to wit: in the opening narration, the narrator states the Shah was given asylum in the United States. Respectfully stated, that’s not accurate. He was allowed to go to New York only for treatment of the cancer he had contracted in Iran, but left the U.S. six weeks later for Mexico and Egypt, the latter where he died and is buried, never to return to the U.S.

The events chronicled in “Argo” that took place in Iran a year after i was there for my second visit were unknown to most of us publicly until “Argo’s” release. Hearing former President Jimmy Carter’s voice over the film’s end credits, describing the fact the “Argo” story was a secret kept until former President Clinton declassified it, was, and is, a fascinating narrative.

I knew Iran as a television producer, making a promotional television ski documentary for the Shah’s regime, with two visits to that country within the space of a Year. My documentary aired on HBO for a year until the Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution Occurred. Seeing the film “Argo” reminded me of the major differences between the Iran I knew and the Iran of today. There was at least one flourishing synagogue in Tehran, a Kentucky fried chicken restaurant (which is seen in “Argo”), Wimpy’s hamburgers, four major ski areas, people happily shopping in the Tehran branches of some of the world’s most popular and elegant department stores and plenty of nightlife.

That all changed, of course, when the Shah’s desire to westernize the country was toppled by the theocratic revolution in the late 1970s.

To any of us who either worked or lived in Iran during the Shah’s reign, it’s difficult to see what’s happened there, even since the Ayatollah Khomeini Died.

There are many Iranians living in the twin cities, and most departed when the Shah and Empress Farah left Iran, too. Since the Shah died, his widow, Empress Farah Diba, for all her Wealth, has also seen a great deal of personal tragedy. Two of her three children, Princess Leila and Prince Ali Reza, committed suicide. I was told by another family member they did so because they had lost their country and were too overwhelmed with grief to see what else would happen to it.

I met them both when they were young children, at that time ages 4 and 11, respectively, while having lunch with the Empress during a filming break. It was in a small mountain cabin, owned by the royal family, halfway down the slopes of Mount Dizin, one of the four major ski areas the Shah had built, as previously referenced, just northwest of Tehran. The only others at that lunch were my friends Billy Kidd and Suzy Chaffee, the “stars” of my film, along with the Empress, of course, as well as Dick Barrymore, the late great ski photographer and longtime friend to me since our sun Valley, Idaho, days in the 1960s and a lady named Lili Dashti, a friend of Empress Farah. Dick was shooting his own film for theater audiences.

In the days i was there, Iran was our closest ally in that part of the world, and the glue that held the Middle East together for The West. Today we can only hope that country doesn’t become un-glued, to the detriment Of the entire world. Thanks for reading, thinking and allowing me to share some vivid memories, once again.

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