As Academy Snubs Affleck for 'Argo,' Iran Plans Cinematic Response to It

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TEHRAN -- A tough week for Ben Affleck just got tougher.

First, he was snubbed in the Oscar nominations on Thursday, overlooked in the best director race for "Argo," his film about the Central Intelligence Agency's extraction of six American diplomats from revolutionary Tehran. Now, news reports from Tehran say the Iranian government is planning to finance a movie that will correct what it says are "Argo's" numerous distortions of the historical record.

Not much is known about the proposed movie, other than its title, "The General Staff," and its director, Ataollah Salmanian, a minor figure in Iran's cinema industry. But it is a sure bet that it will center on the official Iranian view of the 1979 hostage crisis, in which 52 American diplomats were held by Islamic students for 444 days.

Following its release in October, "Argo" was condemned by Iranian officials as anti-Iranian. One former hostage taker, Abbas Abdi, after seeing the movie, said that he and his comrades would always be seen as "bad guys" in the United States. Others in Iran accused Mr. Affleck of promoting "Islamophobia."

Certainly, the director, Mr. Salmanian, sees his task in those terms. "This film, which will be a huge production, should be an appropriate answer to the film 'Argo,' which lacks a proper view of historical events," he told the semiofficial Mehr news agency this week. He has also written the screenplay for the movie, which, according to The Tehran Times newspaper, will be paid for by the Iranian government's Art Bureau.

Iran's leaders, who in recent years have started several foreign-language satellite channels to spread their ideology of political Islam, seem keen to get into the influential English-language movie industry. In February, Sean Stone, Oliver Stone's son, was invited to visit Iran, where he is now rumored to be making a movie with the help of the Iranian authorities.

Nevertheless, it is independently made Iranian films that have attracted foreign acclaim, with "A Separation," by Asghar Farhadi claiming the Oscar for best foreign-language film in 2012.

Last year the authorities closed down Iran's main film directors union, "The House of Cinema," accusing its members of having relations with foreign-based opposition channels. That has not kept controversial films out of Iranian cinema, however -- the movie "I Am Mother" showed people drinking alcohol and women without their obligatory head scarves, prompting protests from conservatives.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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