Hollywood takes on a tragedy of history — in films from opposing viewpoints – The Washington Post

09:00 • 20.03.17



By Vanessa H. Larson


Turks and Armenians have been in a bitter, long-running ­dispute over the deaths of more than 1 million Armenians during World War I in the Ottoman Empire. Armenians call it a genocide; the Turkish government says the killings were not systematic, occurring in the midst of war.


Now, the dispute has come to Hollywood. Two films this spring feature an intense love triangle that unfolds in this historic setting — but their political agendas are vastly different. 


“The Promise,” opening nationwide April 21, is the first major Hollywood movie to portray what a consensus of historians calls the Armenian genocide, which involved forced-march deportations and mass killings over several years starting in 1915. 


Oscar Isaac plays a young Armenian man who moves from his small village to Istanbul in 1914 to study medicine. There, as the predominantly Muslim Ottoman Empire enters the war on the side of Germany and turns on its own minority Christian Armenian population, he meets and falls in love with an Armenian woman raised in France (Charlotte Le Bon of “The Walk”), who is romantically involved with an outspoken American correspondent for the Associated Press (Christian Bale). 


Talaat Pasha, considered the mastermind behind the killings, is one of the real-life figures in the film, which spares none of the Turkish atrocities against the Armenians, from the brutal labor camps for young men to the massacres of women, children and the elderly. 


Though “The Ottoman Lieutenant” appears similar on the surface, it offers a very different interpretation of history. The film — which opened March 10 with a limited release — tells the fictional story of a headstrong American nurse (Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar) who travels to eastern Anatolia (now Turkey) to work at an American Mission Hospital. During the war, she is pulled between two men seeking her affections: an American doctor (Josh Hartnett) and a Muslim Ottoman lieutenant (Michiel Huisman of “Game of Thrones”). 


The film takes an approach similar to the position of the ­Turkish government, which has long held that there was no state-organized policy of ethnic cleansing against Armenians. Rather, Turkey insists, during the fighting on the Ottoman Empire’s eastern front against the Russians, Turkish and Armenian civilians alike died in the course of wartime violence. 


Taner Akcam of Clark University, one of the few historians from Turkey to recognize the events as a genocide, says that the country’s government refuses to acknowledge Turkish culpability partly because of the sensitive issue of reparations for survivors and their descendants. But the stance also stems from deeper roots: the country’s founding in 1923 on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.


“If you acknowledge the Armenian genocide, then you have to acknowledge that an important number of Turkish founding fathers were either involved directly in genocide or became rich during the genocidal process” through the seizure of Armenian property, said Akcam. 


Both films were in the works well before the April 24, 2015, centenary of the tragedy , which helped increase awareness of the subject. 


“The Armenian genocide is one of the most well-documented humanitarian catastrophes of the 20th century,” said Eric Esrailian, lead producer for Survival Pictures, which produced “The Promise” — his first film, as he’s also a physician at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. “It was, in real time . . . frequently written about in U.S. newspapers. There was a huge humanitarian relief effort.”


It is largely due to Turkish pressure on the film industry that a movie like “The Promise” was not made sooner. In the 1930s, MGM acquired the film rights to “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh,” Franz Werfel’s best-selling novel inspired by the true story of several thousand Armenians who survived a mountaintop siege. But lobbying by Turkish Ambassador to the United States Mehmet Munir Ertegun (whose son Ahmet went on to found Atlantic Records) forced the studio to drop the project. 


Recent years have seen a couple of small-scale indie features that deal with the tragedy, including Armenian Canadian director Atom Egoyan’s “Ararat” (2002) and Turkish German director Fatih Akin’s “The Cut” (2014). 


“The Promise” was also developed outside the studio system, financed entirely by the late mogul Kirk Kerkorian, who owned MGM for many years and later founded Survival Pictures in 2012.


“The ‘promise’ means so much to us personally,” said Esrailian. “The promise was from Mr. Kerkorian to make the film. The promise was from us to complete the film. The promise is for us to never forget. And the promise is for us to also vow to do something so that it never happens again.”


With a budget of nearly $100 million, the film is one of the most expensive independent films ever made, according to ­Variety. And the entire endeavor is not-for-profit: Survival Pictures has committed to donating all proceeds to nonprofit organizations, including the Elton John AIDS Foundation and “other human rights and humanitarian groups.”


“The Ottoman Lieutenant” was also made with private financing, in this case from a group of Turkish producers working in film, TV and advertising. They teamed up with producer Stephen Joel Brown (“Seven”), as well as an American director, Joseph Ruben (“The Forgotten”), and screenwriter, Jeff Stockwell (“Bridge to Terabithia”), to make a feature that would have high production values.


In an interview, Brown maintained that their film was not seeking to promote a particular political agenda, describing it as “a classic love story, set at a time and place that we really haven’t seen in cinema.” 


While foregrounding the clandestine romance between the American nurse and the Ottoman lieutenant, the movie does not completely shy away from showing the suffering of the Armenians, particularly in one crucial scene involving Turkish soldiers. “That [scene] seems kind of unequivocally saying, Turks force-marched Armenians and then slaughtered them along the way,” said Stockwell, the screenwriter. “Whatever you want to quibble about, there it is. Now, is there enough? Is it soft-pedaled?”


Nevertheless, focusing the action on the town of Van and showing one of the few Armenian insurgencies, which took place there in April and May 1915, has the effect of promoting the Turkish narrative, which points to the Van resistance as a justification for repression of the Armenians. 


“The official Turkish argument is that deportation of Armenians was a response to Armenian uprisings,” said Akcam (who has not seen “The Ottoman Lieutenant”). “This is the reason the Van event is crucial in Ottoman Turkish historiography. This argument is not correct, because . . . we know that the decision for deportation was already taken before the Van uprising.”


A sizable contingent of Turks, as well as many in the Armenian diaspora, have been aware of “The Promise” for some time. Last October, outlets including the Independent reported that it had more than 85,000 ratings on IMDb, nearly all of them either 1 or 10 stars. Given that the film had had just three public screenings by that point, it seemed clear that users who had not even seen it were “rating” it based purely on their politics. 


Similarly, before “The Ottoman Lieutenant” had even opened, it was quickly dismissed in Armenian American publications and in YouTube comments sections as Turkish propaganda. 

 

While neither movie is likely to settle the debate over the events of World War I, these portrayals might prompt some Americans to look into the historical record — and draw their own conclusions.

 





LATEST NEWSAll Today news

14:27 • 27/03

Plane carrying Kazakh football team back to Yerevan airport after 1.5-hour flight

13:20 • 27/03

Odd-shaped fruit selling for £21,000 apiece in Japan

13:03 • 27/03

'He was my second dad': Dwayne Johnson pays tribute to late Boston drummer Sib Hashian

12:43 • 27/03

Azerbaijan must recognize Artsakh’s right to self-determination – parliament official

12:03 • 27/03

Uber suspends self-driving cars after Arizona crash

11:50 • 27/03

Center-right party wins 32.6% in Bulgarian election, 90% of votes counted

11:39 • 27/03

German-Turkish author of Genocide bill warns Turks against backing constitutional amendments

11:00 • 27/03

Three million new migrants may come to Turkey from Iran, says deputy PM

10:35 • 27/03

Azerbaijan unwilling to end war over Karabakh -  Armenian human rights activist

09:30 • 27/03

Nagorno-Karabakh reports more Azerbaijani ceasefire violations

09:18 • 27/03

Trump taps Kushner to lead a SWAT team to fix government with business ideas

09:00 • 27/03

Football: Mkhitaryan, Ozbilis secure Armenia’s 2-0 win against Kazakhstan

08:36 • 27/03

Merkel party wins state vote as election year starts

18:15 • 25/03

Armenian president starts working visit to Nagorno-Karabakh

17:49 • 25/03

World cities and monuments switch off for Earth Hour

17:40 • 25/03

Italy set to offer special leave for female workers

17:26 • 25/03

Lewis Hamilton wins Australian Grand Prix

17:12 • 25/03

Armenian Government planning $44m investments in Aragatsotn region – prime minister

16:42 • 25/03

Babies coincidentally named Romeo and Juliet born hours apart in US hospital

16:28 • 25/03

Russian-Armenian fund to focus key efforts on energy sector – businessman

15:59 • 25/03

Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds fans say good-bye at public service

15:40 • 25/03

Twitter explores subscription-based option for first time

15:25 • 25/03

Las Vegas Bellagio casino on lockdown after raiders in pig masks storm hotel’s Rolex store with shots fired

15:07 • 25/03

Armenia, Russia launch joint investment fund

14:35 • 25/03

Laptop ban of flights takes effect

14:20 • 25/03

Military imbalance serious concern in Karabakh peace – parliament runner

13:50 • 25/03

EU leaders seek unity in Rome, despite Brexit and protests

13:42 • 25/03

Zhamanak: Actor Vardan Petrosyan to leave Armenia permanently

13:19 • 25/03

Ex CIA director 'discusses plan to snatch Gulen

13:01 • 25/03

Ex Nagorno-Karabakh top commander charged in weapons smuggling case

12:34 • 25/03

Armenian president pays tribute to Andranik Margaryan

12:14 • 25/03

British Airways introduces boarding without passports as it installs facial recognition

17:38 • 24/03

Russian-Armenian test pilot Stepan Mikoyan dies at 94

17:02 • 24/03

Grand designs: Striking images of buildings from around the world that wowed the 2017 Sony Photography Competition judges

16:44 • 24/03

Armenian, Bulgarian transport ministers discuss bilateral cooperation

16:15 • 24/03

Switzerland warns Turkey against illegal spying

16:00 • 24/03

Armenia’s new military prosecutor introduced to staff  

15:27 • 24/03

One killed, three injured in Cairo suburb explosion

15:03 • 24/03

Ter-Petrosyan changes rhetoric on Karabakh peace – oppositionist

14:34 • 24/03

Ucom keeps on supporting Armath engineering labs and educating future employees for the company  

14:24 • 24/03

Disney not to digitalise Carrie Fisher image in new Star Wars film

14:01 • 24/03

Armenian prime minister maintains high reputation in pre-election period - Gallup International Association

13:00 • 24/03

Russia rejects Eurovision via satelite

12:39 • 24/03

Boston rocker Sib Hashian dies while aboard rock-n-roll cruise ship

12:34 • 24/03

US senators set bipartisan bill to tighten Iran sanctions

12:23 • 24/03

New WikiLeaks docs show how the CIA hacks iPhones and MacBooks

12:10 • 24/03

Terrorism is universal evil – Armenian president condemns London attack

11:44 • 24/03

Twitter mulls paid subscription service for power users

11:31 • 24/03

First Armenian female fighters in a decades-old conflict in photos – The Washington Post

11:18 • 24/03

Russia suspends Jehovah’s Witnesses over extremism

10:58 • 24/03

State Department orders embassies to ramp up visa screening

10:36 • 24/03

One killed in oxygen station explosion in Armenian village (photos)  

10:13 • 24/03

Hraparak: Joint Russian-Armenian fund plan finalized

09:40 • 24/03

3.5 magnitude quake strikes Georgia's Akhalkalaki

09:26 • 24/03

Sweden vows stronger ties with NATO amid 'Russian threat'

09:05 • 24/03

Armenian-Americans named among nominees of 2017 Ellis Island Medal of Honor

08:35 • 24/03

Westminster attacker identified

17:33 • 23/03

Armenia-UAE investment fund plan discussed in Abu Dhabi

17:16 • 23/03

Shia LaBeouf's anti-Trump project moves to Liverpool

17:09 • 23/03

IS claims responsibility for London attack

16:59 • 23/03

Erdogan slams Bulgaria over pressure on Turkish community on eve of key elections

16:40 • 23/03

Chinese casher counts money faster than actual machine

16:27 • 23/03

David Mackenzie  to fund film and TV school project in Armenia - premier

16:02 • 23/03

Crude nature of London attack suggests limited IS network in Britain

15:42 • 23/03

Azerbaijan’s stance on Karabakh peace undermines mediators' efforts – deputy minister

15:30 • 23/03

Coca-Cola Hellenic Armenia and Orran expand their cooperation  

15:09 • 23/03

Daredevil holidaymakers swim face-to-face with deadly 13ft-long crocodiles (photos)

14:48 • 23/03

Ex Nagorno-Karabakh official not admitting complicity in missile smuggling case

14:02 • 23/03

Armenian premier orders plan for Sevan development

13:38 • 23/03

London attack: Seven held after deadly act

13:23 • 23/03

Ferrari are F1 title favourites, says Lewis Hamilton

12:40 • 23/03

Beijing Film Festival to feature David Lynch

12:23 • 23/03

US legislators spearhead bipartisan Genocide prevention resolution

12:13 • 23/03

168 Zham: Armenia increasingly attractive to Iranian tourists

11:43 • 23/03

Emirates to allow passengers to keep laptops until boarding

11:31 • 23/03

Turkey summons Norway envoy

11:16 • 23/03

EPP president extends support to Armenian parliamentary election

10:59 • 23/03

Armenia appoints new ambassador to Belarus

10:36 • 23/03

Smartphone device can test sperm quality  

10:21 • 23/03

London terror attack: what we know so far

10:10 • 23/03

Armenia-UAE relations ‘gaining new flesh and blood’ – expert

09:44 • 23/03

New York tightens security after London terror attack

09:29 • 23/03

We extend our solidarity to intn’l fight against terrorism – Armenian MFA reacts to London attack

09:05 • 23/03

Ex Armenian top commander detained over smuggling of missile system

08:41 • 23/03

Five dead, 40 injured in London terror attack

17:30 • 22/03

Armenian president meets with UAE officials in Abu Dhabi

17:11 • 22/03

Syria conflict:  Air strike 'kills dozens in village near Raqqa'

16:49 • 22/03

Armenia has its specific niche on global ICT map – Serzh Sargsyan

16:37 • 22/03

Good education key to proper governance, prime minister tells local government officials (photos)

16:15 • 22/03

Rex Tillerson  says wife urged him to be secretary of state

15:58 • 22/03

Embarking on new stage of progress: finance minister praises growth in public income

15:28 • 22/03

Two Armenians detained over attempted smuggling of anti-aircraft missile

14:52 • 22/03

We actively work towards attracting Russian investments - ambassador

14:15 • 22/03

Schwarzenegger mocks Trump over 39% approval rating

13:19 • 22/03

Ter-Petrosyan: Azerbaijan ready for concessions over Karabakh

12:11 • 22/03

Brussels marks first anniversary of airport bombings

12:00 • 22/03

Italian artist creates moon and planet lamps making room ‘look out of this world’

11:30 • 22/03

Amazing pictures show youngsters who are dead ringers for some of the biggest names in showbiz

11:19 • 22/03

Six suspects detained in Dink murder case

11:06 • 22/03

Apple drives further into Facebook, Snap territory with video app