TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian officials on Monday dismissed the Oscar-winning film “Argo” as pro-CIA, anti-Iran propaganda, but some young, moderate Iranians welcomed it as a fresh view of recent history.
The movie, based on the escape of six American hostages from the besieged U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, has not been screened in any Iranian theaters.
But many Iranians have seen it nevertheless. In downtown Tehran, bootleg DVDs of “Argo” sell for about 30,000 rials, or less than $1.
The movie has set off a spirited debate that exposed a generational divide.
Iranians who took part in the 1979 Islamic Revolution picked apart the portrayals of Tehran at the time. But those too young to recall the events had a different view.
“I want to know what the other side is saying,” said Shieda, a 21-year-old University of Tehran student, who gave only her first name for fear of a possible backlash for speaking with foreign media.
Tehran City Council member Masoomeh Ebtekar – who was one of the students who occupied the U.S. Embassy and acted as the spokeswoman for the captors – says the film exaggerates the violence among crowds that stormed the compound in November 1979.
Fifty-two Americans were held hostage for 444 days, but a handful of Embassy staff were sheltered by the Canadian ambassador.
Their escape, using a fake movie as a cover story, is recounted in “Argo.”
Ebtekar insists the hostage-takers were mostly students. But other accounts suggest militants and members of the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guard were involved.
Iranian Culture Minister Mohammad Hosseini criticized the film.
“The movie is an anti-Iran film. It is not a valuable film from the artistic point of view. It won the prize by resorting to extended advertisement and investment,” he said, according to the official IRNA news agency.
He said Hollywood has “distorted history” as part of what Iranian officials call a “soft war.”
Iran’s state TV called the movie “an advertisement for the CIA.”
The semiofficial Mehr news agency called the Oscar “politically motivated” because first lady Michelle Obama at the White House joined Jack Nicholson via video link to Los Angeles to help present the best picture prize.
In contrast, retired teacher Reza Abbasi who saw the Revolution first hand, said the film was realistic.
“I know Hollywood usually changes reality to make it attractive for movie lovers, but more or less it was close to the realities then.”
Others said “Argo” shows the need for Iranian filmmakers to deal more with issues from the Revolution.
The moderate Hamshahri newspaper said the movie “targeted the culture and civilization of Iran,” but it is worthwhile for Iranians to see a different perspective of the events that led to the collapse of relations between the U.S. and Iran.
“Iranian audiences are seeing a new version of the events for the first time,” said a commentary in the newspaper. “This has been a weak point for our TV and cinema industry, which has not produced anything about the (U.S. Embassy takeover) after more than three decades.”
Behnam Farahani , 28, a student in Tehran Art University said, he thought competing films “Django” and “Lincoln” were better than “Argo” in terms of structure and theme.
“They deserved more attention. Argo was just a political movie, it was a narration of a political event.”
Mohammad Amin Sharifi, a movie fan in Tehran, was less harsh.
“In my opinion, it’s a nice movie from technical aspects, and it was on the scale of Hollywood movies. But I don’t think it was worth a nomination for Oscar and other awards,” he said.
Iran’s state-run film industry boycotted this year’s Oscars in the wake of an Internet video clip made in the U.S. denigrating the Prophet Muhammad that set off protests across the Muslim world.
The affair was not related to “Argo.”
Last year, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi won the Oscar for best foreign film for “A Separation,” Iran’s first Oscar.
A month before it won, Iranian authorities ordered the closure of the House of Cinema, an independent film group that operated for 20 years and counted Iran’s top filmmakers, including Farhadi, among its members.