MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Desert One - In Theaters and Virtual Cinema ($9.99 rental) – In East Ohio, connect with Cleveland Cinemas
Documentary directed by Barbara Kopple
I remember it, kinda sorta. In 1979 Iran had taken 52 American Embassy workers hostage. President Jimmy Carter was trying to negotiate their release. I also recall that this was the event that led ABC News to create Nightline, whose original (and only) topic was the hostage crisis, night after night. I knew that there was a failed attempt to rescue the hostages that virtually assured Carter a one-term presidency.
That’s about it. And that’s why Desert One is such an interesting and informative documentary; it sheds light on something that should have been more memorable. It begins with a brief history lesson on USA relationships with the Shah of Iran, a ruthless dictator who was widely disliked by the people of his country. A popular uprising against the Shah fueled by the rhetoric of Islamic imam Ayatollah Khomeini established a new government, and the exile of the Shah to the United States for medical treatment. It was a bad time to be an Embassy worker in this time of revolution, but to some of the younger staff, it was also an exciting time.
After a student group of militants storm the Embassy and take the staff prisoners, Carter and the military create the secret Operation Eagle Claw. (It’s hard to believe in anything being covert anymore, but things were different back then.) The failure of the mission to achieve its objective (along with some casualties) was treated with shame, helping it to fade into obscurity.
Desert One is a stirring testament to what Lincoln once called “the better angels of our nature”. We get to meet members of the Delta Force rescue team, a likeable group of veterans who willingly put their lives at risk in service to their country but whose oral history was never honored. We also meet the young and idealistic Embassy staff who faced extreme hardship but were nevertheless treated with respect and restraint by their captors, whose Islamic faith set clear restrictions. While the film shows why Carter’s efforts to negotiate were ineffectual and naïve, it also respects the integrity behind his actions. The film also depicts how the rescue mission failed (in a combination of first-person accounts and animated visuals) and why – perhaps – no one is to blame. We also see the circumstances for the hostages’ release – 444 days later – and why -perhaps – no one can take credit.
I left my viewing of Desert One with gratitude for documentarian Barbara Kopple’s ability to introduce me to this disparate groups of people with the shared gifts of patience, intelligence, kindness and fairness. With such high moral values in place, you can survive a major failure and come out better for it. Hold onto those values for yourself and God may surprise you with your own possibilities in a time such as this.
Note: Since Desert One was produced by the History Channel, it will eventually be televised later this year on cable and satellite services.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Five halos: A stirring and memorial recollection of character, courage, and grace under fire.
One pitchfork: Scenes of televised violence; a stark image of charred corpses.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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