Check It Out: COUP 53—Old Secrets Cast Long Shadows

The powerful documentary film Coup 53—Old Secrets Cast Long Shadows vividly tells the story of the cold-blooded maneuvering by the U.S. and Britain to install the tyrannical and pro-imperialist Shah of Iran in 1953, and how the filmmakers discovered long-buried secrets of British and American spies and coup plotters. This is a crucial film which must be seen—and it is being suppressed and blocked from wide audiences in the U.S. and elsewhere.  

Revolution Books Berkeley recently held a screening of Coup 53. Its director, Taghi Amirani, joined the after-film discussion via Zoom from London. Coup 53 sharply, deftly and artistically dissects the history of the UK/U.S. coup that overthrew Mohammad Mosaddegh, a democratically elected leader who had nationalized the massively profitable Iranian oil industry. The nationalization infuriated then-dominant imperialist power Britain and set coup plans in motion.

This coup, as revcom wrote, “was a turning point in Iranian—and Middle East—history. The coup put a brutal tyrant and U.S. client on the throne, crushed his opponents, and turned Iran into a key client of U.S. imperialism. It signaled the U.S. ascent to regional dominance, taking over from Britain. And it planted the seeds for Iran’s 1979 revolution, which brought Islamic fundamentalist clerics to power—ushering in the new, tense and dangerous chapter in U.S.-Iranian relations we’re in today.” And this set the stage for today’s heroic uprising of the Iranian people on one side, the maneuvering of U.S. imperialism to take advantage for its own ends, and the son of that old Shah working to get rid of the Islamic Republic of Iran and to force a different tyrannical, pro-imperialist government onto the Iranian people.

Taghi Amirani set out to make an in-depth, full-length documentary on this historic turning point. Suspenseful footage follows Amirani and acclaimed filmmaker Walter Murch as they trace the trail of the coup plotters, digging through dusty archives, interviewing witnesses and historians, dramatically bringing out secrets British intelligence had still been hiding. And you see history turn: Mossadegh is overthrown, while British Prime Minister Winston Churchill smirks cold-bloodedly in the background. Meanwhile the Americans, with less experience at such things than the British, are eager students and quick learners, and are soon shoving British imperialism aside as top imperialist dog. You see the new godfather taking over as U.S. President Eisenhower gleefully boasts about the low cost and U.S. victory in the coup.

In the post-screening discussion at Revolution Books, Amirani said, “The Iran coup became a successful template as we see in the film. It was considered such a success and so cheap and so easy and no Americans got killed. No British got killed. And they thought, hey, this works. It's like it's a blueprint. That's a rinse and repeat. They went on to Guatemala. I think at the last count, they went to Guatemala in '54. You, of course, you know about Chile in '73 and a whole bunch in between. The last time I counted, there were 62 American coups after Iran coup.”

Coup 53 Attacked and Suppressed

In the post-screening discussion, Amirani also said the film took 10 years to make “because no established funding institution would support the making of this film. Coup 53 was rejected by everybody and their grandmother...” And though the finished film had rave reviews, all of the major film festivals rejected it, with the notable exception of the Telluride Festival. And the film did not get picked up by any major film distributor.

Amirani thanked Revolution Books for screening the film and said, “The grassroots support for the film is very important in the absence of proper distribution.” He urged, “If there's one way you can support the film, is to write to your local theaters and say you've just seen this film that you liked and you can use your own words about what it means to you and why it's important and encourage them to run it. So if you're active on social media, if you're on some mailing list, if you have a community that you're connected to, just tell them because right now without distribution, we rely on the word of mouth and the people power and grassroots network of getting the word out. So if you know people who can make it happen in any way that you can support, let them know because that's where we are. We made this film dollar by dollar from donations from individuals. We have to get it out the same way.”

Some who attended the showing at Revolution Books were making plans on the spot to have showings and to reach out to others who could organize showings. This is a film that must be seen, debated and discussed, now.

You can watch the film here. The trailer is here: Coup 53 trailer

As has written,

The U.S. imperialists are not and will never be a force for good in the world! All calls for the U.S. to take action against Iran’s reactionary Islamic Republic or intervene in any way in Iran need to be opposed, whether they come from pro-U.S. lackeys like supporters of the former Shah (Mohammad Reza Pahlavi) or from liberal democratic forces. This is especially important now that the U.S. may be adopting a more hostile and confrontational stance against Iran due to its reported aid to Russia in the U.S.-Russia imperialist proxy war taking place in Ukraine.

From the website

While making a documentary about the CIA/MI6 coup in Iran in 1953, Iranian director Taghi Amirani and editor Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The Conversation, The English Patient) discover never seen before archive material hidden for decades. The 16mm footage and documents not only allow the filmmakers to tell the story of the overthrow of the Iranian government in unprecedented detail but also leads to explosive revelations about dark secrets buried for 67 years. Working with Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Schindler’s List, The English Patient) to help bring the lost material to life, what begins as a historical documentary about four days in August 1953 turns into a live investigation, taking the filmmakers into uncharted cinematic waters. The roots of Iran's volatile relationship with America and Britain has never been so forensically and dramatically exposed.

Some comments on Coup 53 from other notable filmmakers:

It is without question one of the greatest of all documentaries.
Apart from its importance as a revelatory history lesson, it’s a masterpiece of humanity, thoroughness, and consummate film craft.

Mike Leigh—Winner of the Palme d'Or

One of the best documentaries of recent years.
Michael Moore

This is big. This is going to be big.
Werner Herzog


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