'Taken Hostage' looks at the Iran hostage crisis and its aftermath

‘Taken Hostage’ looks at the Iran hostage crisis and its aftermath

Anti-Iran protest in the U.S., 1979. (Courtesy of Zuma Press)

Robert Stone’s career in film has been successful.

He’s been nominated for an Oscar and Emmy award. He’s had films premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

Yet, there was always one subject he wanted to tackle – the Iran hostage crisis in the late 1970s.

“I’ve been very frustrated with so many documentaries that cover the United States’ experience in the Middle East,” he says. “I wanted to step back and tell the backstory of how America became so mired in the Middle East. That send us on this new trajectory.”

The result is the four-hour, two-part documentary, “Taken Hostage,” which will premiere at 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14 and Tuesday, Nov. 15, on New Mexico PBS, channel 5.1 and stream on the PBS Video app. The documentary is under the “American Experience” series.

Stone revisits the Iran hostage crisis, when 52 American diplomats, Marines and civilians were taken hostage at the American Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979.

For the next 444 days, the world watched as the United States received a daily barrage of humiliation, vitriol and hatred from a country that had long been one of our closest allies.

The crisis would transform both the U.S. and Iran and forever upend the focus and direction of American foreign policy.

Barry and Barbara Rosen. (Courtesy of Frankie Alduino)

Stone says the documentary delves into the nation’s role in igniting the firestorm that has consumed the most strategically important part of the world for the last 40 years.

Part one chronicles America’s quarter-century of unwavering support for its ally, the Shah of Iran, despite his dictatorial and increasingly brutal and corrupt regime. The film traces the shah’s program to rapidly modernize and westernize Iran in the span of a single generation and portrays in harrowing detail the violent Islamic revolution that overthrew the shah in 1979, sending shockwaves around the world.

Part two explores the holding of the hostages at the American embassy in Tehran by militant Islamic students, with the support and encouragement of the Iranian government led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

“The Iran hostage crisis laid the groundwork for the modern 24-hour news cycle, inspired an escalating cycle of political terrorism and brought down the presidency of Jimmy Carter,” Stone says.

Stone says “Taken Hostage” is told largely through the lens of the exceptional love story of former hostage Barry Rosen and his wife Barbara, who was suddenly thrust into the public eye as the crisis dragged on. Other key figures are Hilary Brown and Carole Jerome, two pioneering female foreign correspondents who risked their lives to uncover the truth of what was happening in Iran.

“I hope people have a better understanding of our relationship with Iran,” Stone says. “That there are many factions in Iran. There’s a lot to unpack in four hours and we tried to keep it all streamlined and tell a complete story.”

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