Ex-Canada ambassador slighted by Affleck’s 'Argo'

Updated 23 February 2013
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Ex-Canada ambassador slighted by Affleck’s 'Argo'

TORONTO: The Canadian former ambassador to Iran who protected Americans at great personal risk during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis says it will reflect poorly on Ben Affleck if he doesn’t say a few words about Canada’s role if the director’s film “Argo” wins the Oscar for best picture Sunday.
But Ken Taylor — who said he feels slighted by the movie because it makes Canada look like a meek observer to CIA heroics in the rescue of six US citizens caught in the crisis — is not expecting it.
“I would hope he would. If he doesn’t than it’s a further reflection,” Taylor said. “But given the events of the last while I’m not necessarily anticipating anything.”
Taylor kept the Americans hidden at the embassy in Tehran and facilitated their escape by getting fake passports and plane tickets for them. He became a hero in Canada and the United States after. The role he played in helping the Americans to freedom was minimized in the film.
“In general it makes it seem like the Canadians were just along for the ride. The Canadians were brave. Period,” Taylor said.
Affleck’s thriller is widely expected to win the best-picture trophy. Two other high-profile best-picture nominees this year, Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” and Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” have also been criticized for their portrayal of some factual issues.
Affleck said in a statement Friday night he thought his issue with Taylor had been resolved.
“I admire Ken very much for his role in rescuing the six houseguests. I consider him a hero. In light of my many conversations as well as a change to an end card that Ken requested I am surprised that Ken continues to take issue with the film,” he said in a statement. “I spoke to him recently when he asked me to narrate a documentary he is prominently featured in and yet he didn’t mention any lingering concerns. I agreed to do it and I look forward to seeing Ken at the recording.”
Taylor noted that former US President Jimmy Carter appeared on CNN on Thursday night and said “90 percent of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian,” but the film “gives almost full credit to the American CIA.”
Carter also called “Argo” a complete distortion of what happened when he accepted an honorary degree from Queen’s University in Canada in November.
“I saw the movie Argo recently and I was taken aback by its distortion of what happened because almost everything that was heroic, or courageous or innovative was done by Canada and not the United States,” Carter said.
Taylor said there would be no movie without the Canadians.
“We took the six in without being asked so it starts there,” Taylor said. “And the fact that we got them out with some help from the CIA then that’s where the story loses itself. I think Jimmy Carter has it about right, it was 90 percent Canada, 10 percent the CIA.”
He said CIA agent Tony Mendez, played by Affleck in the film, was only in Iran for a day and a half.
The movie also makes no mention of John Sheardown, a deputy at the Canadian embassy who sheltered some of the Americans. Taylor said it was Sheardown who took the first call and agreed right away to take the Americans in. Sheardown recently died and his wife, Zena, called the movie disappointing.
Friends of Taylor were outraged last September when “Argo” debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The original postscript of the movie said that Taylor received 112 citations and awards for his work in freeing the hostages and suggested Taylor didn’t deserve them because the movie ends with the CIA deciding to let Canada have the credit for helping the Americans escape
Taylor called the postscript lines “disgraceful and insulting” and said it would have caused outrage in Canada if the lines were not changed. Affleck flew Taylor to Los Angeles after the Toronto debut and allowed him to insert a postscript that gave Canada some credit.
Taylor called it a good movie and said he’s not rooting against it, but said it is far from accurate.
“He’s a good director. It’s got momentum. There’s nothing much right from Day 1 I could do about the movie. I changed a line at the end because the caption at the end was disgraceful. It’s like Tiananmen Square, you are sitting in front of a big tank,” he said.


In emotional reunion, Spielberg revisits ‘Schindler’s List’

Updated 59 min 4 sec ago
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In emotional reunion, Spielberg revisits ‘Schindler’s List’

  • It was the first time Steven Spielberg had watched “Schindler’s List” with an audience since it was released in 1993
  • Spielberg initially shied away from “Schindler’s List,” scripted by Steven Zaillian and based on Thomas Keneally’s novel “Schindler’s Arkansas”

NEW YORK: Steven Spielberg says no film has affected him the way “Schindler’s List” did.
Spielberg, Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley and others reunited for a 25th anniversary screening of “Schindler’s List” at the Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday, in an evening that had obvious meaning to Spielberg and the hushed, awed crowd that packed New York’s Beacon Theater. In a Q&A following the film, Spielberg said it was the first time he had watched “Schindler’s List” with an audience since it was released in 1993.
“I have never felt since ‘Schindler’s List’ the kind of pride and satisfaction and sense of real, meaningful accomplishment — I haven’t felt that in any film post-’Schindler’s List,’” Spielberg said.
The reunion was a chance for Spielberg and the cast to reflect on the singular experience of making an acknowledged masterwork that time has done little to dull the horror of, nor its necessity. “It feels like five years ago,” Spielberg said of making the film.
Spielberg shot the film in Krakow, Poland, in black-and-white and without storyboards, instead often using hand-held cameras to create a more documentary-like realism. Neeson remembered Spielberg running with a camera and, on the fly, directing him and Kingsley down Krakow streets. “It was exciting. It was dangerous and unforgettable,” Neeson said.
“Schindler’s List,” made for just $22 million (Spielberg declined a pay check), grossed $321 million worldwide and won seven Academy Awards, including best picture and best director. It also did much to educate the American public on the Holocaust. After the film, Spielberg established the Shoah Foundation, which took the testimony of 52,000 Holocaust survivors.
More needs to be done for Holocaust education, Spielberg said: “It’s not a pre-requisite to graduate high school, as it should be. It should be part of the social science, social studies curriculum in every public high school in this country.”
Making “Schindler’s List” was a profound, emotional and fraught experience for many of those involved. Kingsley recalled confronting a man for anti-Semitism during production. Spielberg said swastikas were sometimes painted overnight. Recreating scenes like those in the Krakow ghetto and at Auschwitz were, Spielberg said, very difficult for most of those involved. Two young Israeli actors, he said, had breakdowns after shooting a shower scene at the concentration camp.
“That aesthetic distance we always talk about between audience and experience? That was gone. And that was trauma,” said Spielberg. “There was trauma everywhere. And we captured the trauma. You can’t fake that. (The scene) where everyone takes off their clothes was probably the most traumatic day of my entire career — having to see what it meant to strip down to nothing and then completely imagine this could be your last day on earth.
“There were whole sections that go beyond anything I’ve ever experienced or seen people in front of the camera experience,” the 71-year-old filmmaker added.
Spielberg actually released two movies in 1993. “Jurassic Park” came out in June, and “Schindler’s List” followed in November. While he was shooting in Poland, Spielberg made several weekly satellite phone calls with the special effects house Industrial Light & Magic to go over Tyrannosaurus Rex shots — a distraction he abhorred.
“It built a tremendous amount of anger and resentment that I had to do this, that I actually had to go from what you experienced to dinosaurs chasing jeeps,” Spielberg told the audience. “I was very grateful later in June, though. But until then, it was a burden. This was all I cared about.”
“Schindler’s List” was a redefining film for Spielberg, who up until then was mostly considered an “entertainer,” associated with fantasy and escapism. Since, he has largely gravitated toward more dramatic and historical material like “Amistad,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Munich,” “Lincoln” and last year’s “The Post.”
But Spielberg initially shied away from “Schindler’s List,” scripted by Steven Zaillian and based on Thomas Keneally’s novel “Schindler’s Arkansas”. He urged Roman Polanski, whose mother was killed at Auschwitz, to make it. Martin Scorsese was once attached to direct.
Yet the making of “Schindler’s List” prompted an awakening for Spielberg, who has said his “Jewish life came pouring back into my heart.” On Thursday, the director said he wanted to make the film about “the banality of the deepest evil” and “stay on the march to murder, itself.”
To keep his sanity while shooting in Poland, he watched “Saturday Night Live” on Betamax and relied on weekly calls from Robin Williams.
“He would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone,” said Spielberg. “I would laugh hysterically because I had to release so much. But the way Robin is on the telephone, he would always hang up on you on the loudest, best laugh you’d give him.”