Dominating a territory spanning from northern Africa to central Asia, Persia once reigned as the world's first universal empire. Its archaeological treasures are rich and continue to expose secrets of a history obscured since the overtaking of Persia by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. The documentary Persian Legacy of the Flames attempts to unravel some of those secrets through its thoughtful portrayals of two legendary archaeologists who operated many decades ago, and whose work continues to inspire the modern day efforts of a research team from the University of Sydney in Australia.
German archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld and his assistant Friedrich Krefter were determined to unearth these buried secretes when they traveled to southern Persia in 1929. The climate in which they arrived was a delicate one, however. The French maintained a monopoly on all excavation activities in Iran and foreigners were not looked kindly upon in the region, particularly if they were of German descent. The film details his attempts to woo members of the Iranian government, and the political intrigue which followed. With great persuasion, the pair were granted permission to assist in the excavation of one of the most mysterious and ill-understood areas of archaeological study in the region - Persepolis, the mythical capital of the Persian Empire.
Their discoveries provided a stark contrast to the common perception of the empire. To their amazement, the archaeologists concluded an alternate history based on their findings; a history characterized by a much more empathetic and welcoming ruling philosophy than the harsh and tyrannical one that had previously been embraced.
Drawing upon careful examination of the diaries kept by Herzfeld at the time, and dramatized through a series of lavishly produced re-enactments, Persian Legacy of the Flames succeeds in humanizing both of these important figures, and lending a sense of urgency and tragedy to their struggles and exploits. The filmmakers balance this portrait with the efforts of current archeologic researchers who continue their work under similarly strained circumstances. To these dedicated diggers, the mission to unlock the mysteries of the past far exceeds the physical dangers and political unrest that continue to grip the region.