An Iranian Odyssey
Jenni Hulse:Index on Censorship hosts an exclusive screening of Maziar Bahari's important documentary
20 Nov 09

This is a guest post by Jenni Hulse

Last night, Index on Censorship hosted a screening of An Iranian Odyssey: Mossadegh, Oil and the 1953 CIA Coup, directed by Canadian-Iranian journalist and filmmaker, Maziar Bahari.

The film played to a full house, with latecomers finding room in the aisles. The atmosphere felt particularly celebratory as the screening had originally been arranged as part of a campaign for Bahari’s release, after he was detained in Tehran’s Evin prison in June. Happily, he was freed without charge on 17 October and allowed to return to the UK.

An Iranian Odyssey is only the third documentary to have been made about the 1953 coup and it provides an important and intelligent commentary on a period in Iranian history that laid the foundations for the continuing stand-off between Iran and the West. The film is a rich account of the rise and fall of Mohammad Mossadegh, and paints a vivid portrait of a man who, for many Iranians, remains a national hero.

Bahari uses archive footage and contemporary news reels, as well as candid interviews with key figures in the coup. The film makes some fascinating revelations, including the role the BBC played in the coup, disseminating anti-Mossadegh propaganda and even broadcasting the code that signalled to the Shah that the coup was on.

The screening was followed by a lively panel discussion chaired by Malu Halasa, with filmmaker Simon Ardizzone and anthropologist and filmmaker Ziba Mir-Hosseini.

Ardizzone, who has collaborated with Bahari over the past two years, provided an insight into the filmmaking process, discussing how materials were sourced for the film and the problems encountered. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he revealed that BP had censored part of their archive and refused permission for their footage to be used in the film.

Mir-Hosseini made some interesting observations on the growing popularity of documentary film in Iran, something she attributed to a desire on the part of Iranians to communicate the “other side of the story”, in a country where all television broadcasts are controlled by the state and present a uniform picture of Iranian history and politics.