On Thursday, November 14, the Trent University Oshawa campus was brimming with tales of international espionage and political turmoil apropos of a bestselling spy novel.
Better yet, it was a visit from renowned diplomat, former Canadian ambassador to Iran and businessman, Ken Taylor, who came to Trent Oshawa for the screening of Our Man in Tehran, a feature length documentary about the harrowing experience of the 1979 U.S. hostage crisis in Iran.
Over 200 students, alumni, faculty and prominent members of the local community including Oshawa Mayor, John Henry, came to greet Ken Taylor and to hear his account first-hand. The evening included a reception followed by a screening of Our Man in Tehran and a panel discussion.
The documentary was co-written by Trent’s own professor of history and bestselling author, Dr. Robert Wright. The documentary steadfastly explains the complex political landscape of the rising revolution in 1970s Iran after the fall of the Shah regime to the new ruling power led by Ayatollah Khomeini. Perceived U.S. sympathies for the Shah sparked outrage amongst Iranian revolutionaries which led to the attack on the American Embassy and the taking of 52 hostages.
The documentary Our Man in Tehran describes how Ambassador Ken Taylor along with his wife Pat, and diplomatic counterparts, John and Zena Sheardown, arranged for the safe harbour and ultimate escape for six Americans who narrowly avoided the hostage taking. The film demonstrates how Ken played a key role in the high-risk, international operation. Airport stakeouts and falsified passports are just some of the elements of this incredible story.
Former Prime Minister Joe Clark; secretary of state for external affairs, Flora McDonald; the American escapees and CIA agent, Tony Mendez, are some of the prominent figures who share their accounts in the film. It was a book written by Mr.Mendez inspired the creation of the award-winning film Argo. The individuals’ trusting relationships with Robert Wright encouraged them to participate in the documentary’s production.
Director, Drew Taylor, explained why they felt confident to tell their story now in the documentary. “There was a great deal of trust that was built up between Robert and these people that appear in the film,” he said. “They sat back; they read the book; they looked at the approach that Robert made and felt it was honest and true.”
Regarding the screening of Our Man in Tehran at Trent’s Oshawa campus, Mr. Taylor feels, as with other universities, Trent is an ideal place to do this. He believes the film is a reflection for younger people and shows what Canadians can do abroad. “I think it has an impact and causes people to reflect and think about what’s going on,” he said.
Dr. Wright was very excited about the screening at Trent. “I am delighted to be participating in this screening of the film at Trent Oshawa, and even more thrilled that Ken Taylor and Drew Taylor agreed to join me in a panel discussion afterwards. I’m extremely happy with the film and with the great interest Canadians have shown in it. As for Trent, I cannot think of a project with which I have been so closely connected that makes for a better fit for Trent. This is a great Canadian story.”
As for working with Ken Taylor on the project, Robert said, “It was one of the great highlights of my career to be able to work so closely with such an important Canadian.”
Oshawa Chamber of Commerce CEO, Bob Malcolmson, attended the event. “The University students today are seeing history in the room that they would never have an opportunity to see. The guy was cool as a cucumber, and that’s amazing. The connection is the history and that’s so vitally important to education. To understand today you’ve got to understand where we came from.”
Craig Cameron is the Academic Advisor on the Oshawa Campus. He said, “I think it’s a tremendous honour for Trent. At Trent Oshawa we’re all quite in awe of having Ken Taylor here. It’s cool to know we are attracting these kinds of internationally-recognized figures to our campus.”
Prior to the production of the film, Dr. Wright worked closely with Mr. Taylor on a historical book that accurately chronicled the events in Iran also entitled, Our Man in Tehran. Their work included endless phone calls and reviews of conversations from original dispatches. The book was produced in time for the thirtieth anniversary of the crisis.
As initial work on the film began, Mr. Taylor recalled, “When I was approached by the film house, they had read Our Man in Tehran. I said if you need a framework, if you need somebody who may be referred to from time to time as a guiding hand, Robert Wright is it. You don’t need to go any further. Sure you can do further research as they did but at the same time, the authenticity and the depth is in Our Man in Tehran.”
As for the future in the Middle East, Mr. Taylor feels that patience and time are vital as the complexities of the region and building of frameworks of justice are lengthy processes. Regarding lessons that students and others viewers can take away from the film, he added, “I think what comes through is the unpredictability and the need for patience.”