U.S. and Canadian leaders commemorated their two countries’ close ties and cooperation this week at the premiere of a movie about the 1979 Iran hostage crisis in which 52 American diplomats were held captive for more than a year.
The movie, Argo, opens in the United States this weekend and its director and star, Ben Affleck, introduced it at a private showing at the Canadian Embassy.
The film is based on the true story of a covert Central Intelligence Agency operation to rescue six Americans who managed to escape when Islamist demonstrators took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and captured most of its diplomats. The six who escaped secretly took refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador.
Affleck, who also wrote the screenplay, plays Tony Mendez, a CIA “exfiltration” specialist who gets the six American escapees out of the country by having them impersonate a Canadian film crew scouting movie locations in Iran.
"This movie is about cooperation [and] the great things that are possible with diplomacy,” Affleck said at a private cocktail reception at the Canadian Embassy before the film’s screening.
Affleck was addressing several hundred guests at the embassy, including members of Congress, CIA officials and former Tehran embassy hostages, including two of the six portrayed in the film.
Bob Anders, one of the two, said the most difficult part of the ordeal came several days after their escape from the U.S. Embassy when he and the others were in hiding before contacting the Canadians.
“We were kind of lost and didn’t know what to expect,” Anders, now in his sixties, said in an interview. “That’s when I called my Canadian friend and said ‘We’re hiding out; we don’t know what to do,’ and he says ‘Well, come on, you can stay with us.’ So I said, ‘I’ve got…other people with me’ and he said ‘That’s OK, bring them over.”
The highlight of the evening came when Affleck introduced several of the real-life people portrayed in the film. In addition to the former hostages, they included Canada’s ambassador to Iran at the time, Ken Taylor, and his wife, Pat. Affleck said both had put themselves at “great risk” by agreeing to provide the Americans safe haven when others had refused.
“One of the more beautiful aspects of [this story] is that this is about the Canadians who stepped up,” said Affleck. “There were folks that didn’t want to take in our people who escaped the embassy. Governments, some friends of ours, who said ‘You know what? This is inappropriate for us. We don’t want to absorb this risk.’ The Canadians did absorb this risk.”
The film director called the episode a “very special turning point in diplomacy,” and said it served as a “model in international relations.”
“It demonstrates, as well the danger that diplomats put themselves in for our lives every day. We were reminded of this tragically recently in Benghazi,” Affleck said, referring to U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others who were killed in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya last month.
Among the other guests at the event were CIA director David Petraeus and former Tehran hostages William Daugherty and Rocky Sickmann, both of whom were held by the Iranians for the entire 444 days of what came to be known as the Iran hostage crisis.