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MOVIE REVIEW : Iran-Contra Affair Focus of Documentary

June 24, 1988|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

Where and when did the Iran-Contra scandal truly begin?

In "Coverup: Behind the Iran-Contra Affair" (selected theaters) Barbara Honegger--a former Reagan Administration White House policy analyst--alleges that it actually started in October, 1980, earlier than we generally assume.

At that time, Honegger claims, George Bush, Richard Allen (Reagan's first national security adviser) and Donald Gregg (Bush's adviser) met in Paris and Washington, D.C., with emissaries from the Ayatollah Khomeini and "cut a deal with Iran . . . to send arms, in exchange for Iran's agreeing to delay the release of the 52 (U.S. Embassy) hostages" for an additional 76 days. Honegger says both sides kept the agreement: Iran released the hostages on Reagan's inauguration day and, according to her, the United States began shipping the Iranians arms in February, 1981.

It's an allegation provocative enough to warrant further investigation. That would seem to be true about most of the charges in this film. In it, other interviewees--including former CIA and Marine intelligence officers, several congressmen, a former U.S. ambassador, former Contra leaders, and several convicted drug smugglers and arms runners--describe or suggest a range of illicit activities, run by what lawyer Daniel Sheehan calls a "secret team" spurred by a mix of ideological and financial motives. For sheer sensational allegations per minute of screen time, "Coverup" would be hard to top.

The film is a collection of interviews and archival footage (including televised testimony of Lt. Col. Oliver L. North). But producer/director Barbara Trent and her chief interviewees--including Sheehan of the public-interest law group the Christic Institute and Peter Dale Scott, a professor of English at UC Berkeley--develop a chillingly lucid and consistent argument. They dig, not entirely satisfyingly, into the alleged cocaine operations of the Contras, and then develop a fascinating murder mystery involving an alleged assassination attempt on ex-Sandinista and ex-Contra leader Eden Pastora. They allege that the primary suspect is an anti-Kadafi Libyan disguised as a Danish journalist.

"Coverup" (Times rated: family) has a clearly left-wing frame of reference; for anyone interested in the Iran-Contra affair, it's probably required viewing.

Showing with it is "Che's Revenge," a short film directed by Eva Gardos from a Rex Weiner story, which amusingly sends up the social attitudes and cliches, as well as the culinary habits, of Santa Monica.

Both films will be screened tonight at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. at the Directors Guild as a benefit for the Empowerment Project, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting and the Christic Institute. (The 8 p.m. screening is sold out.) A planned 10 p.m. reception lists a celebrity roster that includes the film's narrator, Elizabeth Montgomery, and actors Kris Kristofferson, Esai Morales, Diane Ladd, Edward Asner and Rene Auberjonois. Honegger and former CIA analyst David MacMichael will be available for a question-and-answer session afterward.

The films will then screen at the Monica 4-Plex in Santa Monica on Saturdays and Sundays at 10 a.m. They also will show at the Laemmle Grande 4-Plex downtown on July 2 and 3 at noon.

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