Watch the 1980 Documentary Version of ‘Argo’

By  · Published on February 24th, 2013

If you’ve ever put your complete trust in a documentary, you might want to – no, you need to – take a look at Escape from Iran: The Inside Story. This 1980 film, produced by Les Harris for the CBC, was made shortly after the real incident known as the Canadian Caper took place. The same incident is the foundation for Ben Affleck’s Argo, which is expected to win Best Picture at the Oscars tonight, and yet aside from involving some of the same people they barely appear to be about the same hostage situation.

As I’ve written previously, Argo leaves out a few significant details, but so does Escape from Iran. For the latter, though, it was a matter of the real true story being classified. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that the world learned of the fake movie aspect of the Canadian Caper, which is the main appeal of Affleck’s version (also previously told in a 2005 TVdocumentary titled Escape from Iran: The Hollywood Option, which appears on the Argo DVD/Blu-ray). So, in this immediate documentary, the rescued hostages lie to the cameras about how they achieved the escape, claiming they had to pose as members of a Canadian business venture (and start saying “eh” a lot). Looking at the interviews today, there does appear to be some suspicious smiling going on during the cover-up explanation of the mission.

Watch the nearly hour-long documentary after the jump to get a laugh at how unknowingly inaccurate the documentary was and to open your eyes about the trustworthiness of documentary films in general.

After the documentary received great ratings, Harris also produced a dramatic version for Canadian television called Escape from Iran: The Canadian Caper. You can find parts of that on YouTube as well. And you can look forward to a new documentary in the works called Science Fiction Land (see our post on the film), which tells the story of the “fake” film “Argo” when it was a real failed production.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.