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American Coup


USA Director: Joseph Ayella Producer: Joseph Ayella Screenwriter: Joseph Ayella Cinematographer: Susana Travieso Editor: Dave Manzo 2009/color/97 min.


JOSEPH AYELLA


Prior to becoming a filmmaker, Joseph Ayella was an attorney working for victims of workplace discrimination. He studied at the New York Film Academy, making several short films and writing a number of screenplays. American Coup is his feature film debut.


The roots of the United States’ troubled relationship with Iran go back nearly six decades, when the CIA engineered a coup to overthrow then prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh, restore the Shah and return control of Iran’s oil production to the voracious company that is now known all too well as British Petroleum. In the aftermath, US oil interests grabbed their own share. That’s the amply supported premise of Joe Ayella’s fascinating documentary about the little-known (or largely forgotten) events of August 1953, which likely changed the entire course of politics in the Middle East.


Combining vintage newsreel footage and interviews with historians, Middle East experts and former US intelligence officers, the first-time filmmaker rakes muck aplenty while savaging the key players in the takeover, among them CIA director Allen Dulles; his brother, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles; and the British, who exploited McCarthy-era fear about the spread of Communism to bring the US into the scheme to topple Mossadegh. A nationalist by nature but not a Red by any stretch, Mossadegh had been chosen Time’s Man of the Year shortly before the coup; months later, he was serving three years in solitary confine- ment for “treason.”


Initially viewed as a geopolitical success (and a model for future covert ops), the coup in Iran led to disaster 25 years later, when radical mullahs drove the corrupt Shah from power and established an anti-Western Islamic government. After all, unlike most Americans, Iranians have long historical memories, as the film’s commentators point out: while ex-presidential candidate Ron Paul acknowledges the US misstep on camera, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern warns that we “have no idea about the Iranians’ legitimate grievance.”


—BILL GALLO


48


DOCUMENTARY


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