Friday November 21, 2014

Ken Taylor doc to provide 'bookend' to 'Argo' saga at Toronto film fest

Former Canadian ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor, is pictured in Drew Taylor and Larry Weinstein's in-depth documentary, Our Man in Teheran. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, TIFF

TORONTO - A year after Ben Affleck's "Argo" sparked controversy over Canada's role in the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, a Canadian-made documentary seeks to set the record straight.

"Our Man in Tehran" provides a broad look at the high-risk operation to rescue six U.S. citizens from a riotous Tehran, says Toronto-based producer Larry Weinstein and first-time filmmaker Drew Taylor, who co-directs.

And by debuting Sept. 12 at the Toronto International Film Festival, Weinstein says he hopes it provides a satisfying "bookend" to the uproar that emerged when "Argo" screened there last year.

Affleck's Oscar-winning thriller focused on the exploits of CIA agent Tony Mendez, sparking the ire of former Canadian ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor, as well as former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, who believed the star-packed feature downplayed Canada's role.

"Our Man in Tehran" focuses on Taylor and examines the complicated political landscape which caused an angry mob to descend on the U.S. Embassy in the Iranian capital. Fifty-two Americans were taken hostage to protest Western support for the recently deposed shah, but six diplomats managed to escape into the city.

"We spent a lot more time with the Iranian revolution," says Weinstein.

"That's something that we really wanted to do, to just give the whole thing a stronger backdrop. And then the story of the six houseguests is represented as well but also the Canadian aspects throughout there are a number of things that are kind of cool about the Canadians."

The premiere will include a live conversation with Ken Taylor, who sheltered the six U.S. diplomats and provided them with counterfeit documents to escape the country in a joint Canada-U.S. operation.

Despite the complaints, Weinstein says he considers "Argo" to be an "excellent film," even thought it takes some liberties with history.

"And that's natural within a Hollywood film. It's very much the point of view of this man, Tony Mendez, and from that point of view it's pretty accurate," he says.

"Although there is some embellishment and there are a couple of scenes that were made up.... Ours is much more the Canadian point of view and addresses some of the things that are omitted."

Co-director Drew Taylor is not related to Ken Taylor but baseball fans may recognize him as a former prospect pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies.

His unconventional route to filmmaking included a detour into academia as a PhD candidate in biomedical engineering.

"In the back of my mind (I) was probably all along just gearing up to go into med school but I ended up getting picked up by the Toronto Blue Jays," Taylor says of his diverse interests.

"It was not something I could turn down. I had been accepted to medical school but there's no way that you can go and play professional baseball and also be a medical student."

Reluctant to abandon his studies, he pursued a PhD rather than an MD, managing to do his research and hospital work during the off-season and writing while on the road during the baseball season.

"There were a couple times where I'd have to ask a coach, 'Hey, I've got to miss a game,' and I'd fly back and write an exam and then be back the next day. So it was definitely a little bit wild but that was the only way I could really continue my education while still playing," he says.

Also a movie lover, Taylor formed a production company last year with his brother Matthew Taylor to produce film and TV projects. "Our Man in Tehran" came into being when partner Elena Semikina convinced Ken Taylor to share his side of the story.

In addition to Taylor, interviews include Mendez, then-prime minister Joe Clark, then-external affairs minister Flora McDonald, four of the six houseguests, and Bill Daugherty, a former CIA agent and hostage.

"These people all together paint a very full portrait of what was happening and in that way I think there's more objectivity because there's so many voices that tell the story," Weinstein says.

Although he still plans to complete his PhD, Drew Taylor admits that a career in medicine is on the backburner.

"I'm already looking at other film ideas," he says, noting that includes a possible biopic on his dad Ron Taylor, a former ball player who later became the Jays' team doctor.

"Once this settles down a little bit then I'll have the opportunity to start attacking other projects and hopefully intertwine the two. If it's baseball and film, if it's medicine and film, there are a few different combinations there."

The Toronto International Film Festival kicks off Thursday.

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