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Our Man at the Toronto International Film Festival

A directorial debut for U of T PhD candidate

U of T PhD candidate, Drew Taylor (right) with co-director Larry Weinstein (photo by Tessa Lai)

Professional baseball pitcher, U of T PhD candidate and now filmmaker, Drew Taylor is unveiling a unique piece of Canada’s history at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Our Man in Tehran, a feature he co-directed with Larry Weinstein, will air as part of the festival’s Mavericks series, and will introduce film audiences to the little-known story behind the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979, when Canada, and Ambassador Ken Taylor in particular, played a key role in helping six Americans escape Tehran during an intense political crisis. Another 52 people were held hostage in the American Embassy for 444 days.

The idea for the film sprang from a conversation between Ken Taylor and Elena Semikina, a partner at Film House Inc., the production company founded by Drew Taylor (no relation to Ken) and his brother Matthew. During the discussion, Semikina realized that Canadian involvement in the historical events -- popularized by Ben Affleck’s 2012 Academy Award-winning film Argo -- went “beyond Canadians harbouring fugitive Americans, but being active partners in pursuing a solution to the greater hostage situation,” says Semikina.

Drew Taylor, who is researching cartilage tissue engineering at the Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering (IBBME) stresses that Our Man in Tehran is not competing with Argo. Alluding to controversy over the latter film’s downplaying of the Canadian role in the Tehran events, he says that he sees no problems in Affleck’s historical embellishments. “Argo focused on one person and one perspective: [CIA agent] Tony Mendez’s. It was never our idea to refute the main themes in Argo, but to provide people with a documentary perspective. It’s not the Canadians trying to take the story back, but trying to tell the whole story.”

Although Affleck volunteered to narrate the documentary, the filmmakers chose to let the documentary subjects speak for themselves. As well as key interviews with Ken Taylor, the directors spoke to people who were on the ground during the crisis, including the rescued hostages, reporters, Canadian politicians who worked behind the scenes, and Iranians who were watching history unfold on their television screens. 

The film, which receives its world debut on Sept. 12, is generating a lot of buzz. “I wanted to purchase tickets to bring my friends to the TIFF premier but the film was already sold out,” Drew Taylor says.

This won’t be Taylor’s first time in the spotlight. From 2006 to 2008 he was a professional baseball player, pitching for both the Toronto Blue Jays and the Philadelphia Phillies. After an arm injury from which he didn’t fully recover, Taylor went on to play in the Frontier League as well as for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Intercounty Baseball League.

Taylor follows in the footsteps of his father, who also combined a U of T degree with a career in baseball. Ron Wesley Taylor graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering in 1961 and later enjoyed an 11-year stint in the major leagues, including World Series-winning seasons with the Cardinals in 1964 and the Mets in 1969. He also attained a medical degree and is currently physician to the Blue Jays.

Our Man in Tehran represents Taylor’s first foray into directing, he says it will not be his last. For now, though, he is busy readying the film for its release and finishing his dissertation, which he expects to complete this semester.

Taylor is excited about the film’s premiere. “Parts of the film are revolutionary. Things have been uncovered and people are thirsty for that information. For over 30 years, this story has captivated people.”

Our Man in Tehran premieres at TIFF on Sept. 12 and will make its theatrical debut at the Bell Lightbox in downtown Toronto on Sept. 20.

September 11, 2013

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