When BBC journalist Maziar Bahari was arrested and detained in Iran in 2009, his captors accused him of being a foreign spy after watching a segment he did with “The Daily Show.” 

Jon Stewart, who took Bahari’s story and turned it into his first feature film “Rosewater,” says his own feelings of guilt were the impetus for the project.

“One of the beautiful American traits is a wonderful narcissism that our actions are incredibly powerful . . . so there was that moment of like, ‘My God, the power of ‘The Daily Show’ got three men arrested, I must make this right,” Stewart tells reporters in a mocking tone of self-importance during a round table interview at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Sunday. 

“But (through) Maziar and through the other families it was very clear this was a huge crackdown by an authoritarian regime.”

(Gael Garcia Bernal as Maziar Bahari in a scene from 'Rosewater')

Iranian Canadian journalist Bahari was covering Iran’s tumultuous election in 2009 for “Newsweek” when he taped a satirical segment for “The Daily Show” with comedian Jason Jones. After the election results, Bahari captured controversial footage of riots unfolding in the streets that aired on the BBC. He was arrested soon after by the Revolutionary Guard police, who used “The Daily Show” segment as evidence he was a spy.     

After being tortured and held in self confinement for 118 days, Bahari was released and went on to write a memoir about his experience titled, “Then They Came For Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival.”

It formed the basis of Stewart’s film.

“The guilt was an utterly minor and trivial focus,” says Stewart. “What the real focus was, was the universality of the story and the nuance and passion and family aspect Maziar was able to bring to the memoir. That’s what was intriguing about it.”

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