Happening Now

Middle East Studies

Coup 53 Screening and Panel Discussion

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

6 p.m. – 9 p.m. (Doors open at 5:30 p.m.)

Martinos Auditorium, Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, 154 Angell Street

Reception to follow.

This is the first event of the new John F. Kennedy Jr. Initiative for Documentary Film and Social Progress, an effort to bring film and filmmakers to the University with the goal of shedding light on some of the most urgent, challenging, and complex issues facing society through the prism of documentary.

Join director Taghi Amirani, co-writer and editor Walter Murch, and Watson Institute senior fellow Stephen Kinzer for a panel discussion following the screening. The discussion will include commentary and Q&A on the making of the film, historical perspective, and the current situation with Iran.

Ten years in the making, COUP 53 tells the story of the 1953 Anglo-American coup d'état that overthrew Iran's government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and reinstalled the Shah. The CIA/MI6 covert action was called Operation Ajax. It was all about Iran’s oil and who gets to control and benefit from it. BP was at the heart of this story. Shot in seven countries, featuring participants and first-hand witnesses, and unearthing never seen before archive material, COUP 53 is a politically explosive and cinematically innovative documentary that lifts the lid on secrets buried for over sixty-six years.

Watch the official teaser here: Coup 53 Official Teaser.



It has taken Iranian director Taghi Amirani ten years to make COUP 53. He began working on the project on a visit back home in July 2009. Since then he has traveled thousands of miles in search of witnesses and archive material. The documentary was shot in seven countries and features an impressive cast of eye witnesses and people who actually participated in the dramatic historic events on the streets of Tehran 66 years ago. Many of the people Amirani found have never appeared in front of the camera before, several have died since they were filmed.

During this highly challenging project, Amirani has had to battle his way through many obstacles; financial, political and logistical. No studio, no broadcaster, no film funding institution would back the film. COUP 53 is entirely funded by private individuals. Production had to shut down twice when the money ran out, first for five months and the second time for nine months. It was just as hard to convince people to give interviews or share their precious archives. The 1953 coup in Iran is still politically polairzing. Confronting the story either scares people away or bitterly divides them.

Although the US has admitted to its role in the coup - some CIA files have been declassified and released over the years - the UK has not to this day acknowledged its part in the overthrow of democracy in Iran.

COUP 53 has spent years going through thousands of pages of documents and declassified paper. Multi Oscar winning editor, Walter Murch, spooled through hundreds of hours of archive footage and audio recordings. Sources covered every format from 35mm newsreel to 16mm, super 8 home movies, 1/4 inch tape, VHS and mini DV. Original footage shot for the film added up to 532 hours. Murch and Amirani spent 4 years in the cutting room, weaving together this mountain of material into a compelling story boosted by a discovery no one saw coming! A real time find that gives the film one of its most extraordinary and delicious turning points.

COUP 53 also uses hand painted rotoscope animation to bring to life some of the film's intimate moments as well as the dramatic battle scenes of 19th August 1953 for which no archive exists.

Although the story of the CIA/MI6 coup in Iran has been told in previous TV documentaries, no film has ever dug as deep and as forensically into this dark chapter in Iran's history with America and Britain.

If you want to understand the present-day volatile standoff between the US and Iran, you need to know what happened in the summer of 1953.