Second ATEC Lecture Series Concludes with Insiders’ View of ‘Argo’

Jonna and Tony Mendez

Jonna and Tony Mendez presented “The Story of Argo,” the final talk in the second annual Arts and Technology Distinguished Lecture Series.

The second annual Arts and Technology Distinguished Lecture Series came to a close last month with a talk from Tony and Jonna Mendez, the pair behind the real-life story told in the feature film, Argo.

Winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, the film shows how Tony Mendez earned the Intelligence Star for Valor for engineering and conducting the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis.

“Tony and Jonna Mendez are the ideal choice to close the second season,” said Dr. Dennis M. Kratz, dean of the School of Arts and Humanities and the Ignacy and Celina Rockover Professor, as he introduced the two. “They exemplify the relationship between technology and art at the heart of the series. While some might question the value of creativity and the arts, the Mendezes show that some artists help people stay alive.”

During their lecture, the Mendezes shared details about the rescue operation spearheaded by Tony and played related clips from the movie.  

The covert operation was a massive creative project that involved fashioning a Hollywood film production company, complete with personnel, scripts, publicity and real estate in Los Angeles. The six Americans’ role was to pose as the production crew for the film.

Jonna told the audience that Tony was so committed to making the production company appear as authentic as possible that he even took out a full-page ad in Variety magazine. The publication also ran a blurb describing the fake film, which read: “Studio Six Prods. has announced that sci-fi thriller, ‘Argo,’ will begin filming in March on various locations in Asia and Europe. Indie is keeping mum on any plot and cast details until just before pic is released.”

ATEC Lecture Series, Jonna and Tony Mendez

During their lecture, the Mendezes shared details about the rescue operation spearheaded by Tony and played related clips from the Oscar-winning movie.

Tony said the production company was named Studio Six Productions because there were six hostages to rescue.

The 2012 film, directed by and starring Ben Affleck as Tony, stayed relatively true to the actual events, the Mendezes said at the lecture.

“Only the ending of the movie is bogus,” Jonna said. “There was no chase down the tarmac. That was added for dramatic effect.”

Tony said the real ending to the long rescue operation was less theatrical.

“In the end, we landed in Zurich, Switzerland, and two of the hostages got off the plane and kissed the ground. Then the State Department showed up with a van and picked up the hostages without a word,” he said.

As far as being portrayed by Affleck, Tony said he was flattered.

“He was a sweetheart, but I don’t know if he was good looking enough to play me,” he joked.

The second season of the ATEC Distinguished Lecture Series also featured Lincoln Wallen, chief technology officer of DreamWorks Animation, and Hugh Herr, an associate professor who heads the biomechatronics research group at the MIT Media Lab.

A lecture by John Maeda, design partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which was canceled due to inclement weather on March 4, has been rescheduled for Thursday, Oct. 15. Details for his talk — Turning STEM into STEAM — are being finalized.  

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