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Interview with Bill Daugherty, former CIA agent and hostage during the Iran hostage crisis

Real-life Argo



Bill Daugherty,the former CIA agent and hostage who was held for 444 days, will be at the screening of Our Man in Tehran, a documentary that tells the true story behind the events depicted in last year's Best Picture film Argo, to give his first-hand account of the Iranian hostage crisis and the actual events that inspired Argo. Once his CIA connection was discovered, Daugherty became a special target of his captors and was subjected to extraordinary harsh treatment. He managed to survive the ordeal by relying upon his Marine Corps training and combat experience and his remarkable inner reserve of fortitude. He was rewarded the State Department Medal of Valor and the CIA Exceptional Service Medal for his service. Daugherty is now professor emeritus of government at Armstrong Atlantic State University.

City Paper: How did you feel about Argo? Did you feel that it represented the events accurately?

Bill Daugherty: I appreciated Argo as an interesting dramatic rendering of a real event, but not an accurate depiction of that event. After all, it was a film intended to sell tickets and to, possibly, win an Oscar. It was not meant to be a documentary. My short answer is that the first four minutes were correct save for two minor details. After that, the film moved further and further into fiction — exciting fiction, but fiction nonetheless.

CP: When watching it, do you feel transported back to that time of terrible suffering when you were taken hostage or does it feel quite distant, as if it were fictional or not related to you?

BD: No, I really didn't feel transported or even connected to the Iran experience in the film. I never felt that I was watching any events in which I had been a participant (i.e., the first four minutes), much less the actual experiences of the "Canadian Six."

CP: Having lived a "based on actual events" true story that inspired a film, what is your opinion on these types of movies?

BD: Usually these films are interesting, even well made, in terms of production values.  But all films of this nature are jazzed up, some more than others. This is because the real story often is either not sufficiently dramatic — as with Argo, after all, at the end "The Six" walked through the airport with no problems, which was not anywhere as nail-biting as the movie's ending — or is too complex to relate in 90 minutes. 

CP: Did you appear in Our Man in Tehran as an attempt to set the record straight?  

BD: I appeared in the documentary for two reasons: First, I worked with the book's author, Robert Wright, for much of the time he was researching and writing it — about a year, and received a nice comment in his acknowledgements — thus, I had a personal investment in the book and, by extension, the movie. Second, my invitation to participate was extended in large part because Wright and the Canadian Six had proposed my name, even though I had no connection with the Six save for friendship. The documentary producers had not intended the film to correct Argo, because the work on the film began before Argo's release, and I never looked at the documentary that way, either.

CP: Does a documentary, like Our Man in Tehran, tell a story more accurately than narrative Hollywood film (Argo), or does each bring something different to the table?

BD: The movie sacrificed accuracy for a good box office and Oscar potential.  Hollywood is in the business of making money and documentaries rarely do. The craft of the honest documentary producer is making a film that is [as] accurate as they can. There may be some dispute on the interpretation of the facts, but they try to be as objective as possible and the facts utilized are themselves accurate. Documentaries that are done to make a point or support a position may or may not utilize accurate facts, which may be taken out of context or even inaccurate. These are called, by the way, propaganda, even if all the facts are accurate. 

Our Man in Tehran will screen at the Charleston Film Festival on Sat. March 15. at 7 p.m. at the Terrace Theater (1956 Maybank Hwy.). This is a very limited event. Tickets are $15.

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