MONTREAL — Canuck auteur Atom Egoyan’s latest film, “Ararat,” hasn’t even opened yet, but it’s drawing considerable heat from the worldwide Turkish community, which disputes the director’s views on the massacre of Armenians in Turkey during World War I. Egoyan, a Cannes festival regular, reportedly had been promised a competition slot on the Croisette for the film. But he declined the invite, asking instead to have “Ararat” screen out of competition in the Official Selection.
Egoyan said he didn’t want to submit the film to any additional pressure, given the controversy already surrounding the film. For months, there has been a campaign attempting to discredit the Canadian film. French newspaper Le Monde in February reported the Turkish government would take legal action against “Ararat” the moment the pic bowed in front of a public audience. But the Turkish ambassador to Canada, Erhan Ogut, said there was no question of the Turkish government moving to ban the film.
Turkish groups have set up numerous Web sites protesting the content of the Egoyan pic, including at least one that contains an English-language form letter to be sent to Miramax, which is distributing “Ararat” in the U.S., and its parent, Disney.
The letter says the events between 1915 and 1920 cannot be defined as “genocide” and continues: “I am vigorously protesting your company because of producing a film fomenting hatred. I urge you to reconsider your marketing plans regarding this movie in the light of historical facts. Your actions run the serious risk of motivating me and other Turkish audiences to see other companies’ films instead of Miramax and Walt Disney productions.”
The massacre of Armenians during WWI is regarded as genocide by many, including Armenians; Turkish groups have long argued that’s not the case. Starting in 1915, Armenians say, 1.3 million Armenians were killed in the Ottoman Empire. Turkey claims the number is much smaller and says many of the killings were the work of lawless militias rather than the government.
“Ararat,” which is set in present-day Toronto, revolves around an epic film being made in Canada about the events in the Ottoman Empire in 1915. Charles Aznavour plays the filmmaker making the historical pic; cast also includes Eric Bogosian, Brent Carver, Marie-Josee Croze, Bruce Greenwood, Arsinee Khanjian, Elias Koteas and Christopher Plummer. It is produced by Robert Lantos’ Serendipity Point Films and is handled worldwide by Alliance Atlantis.
Egoyan said he regrets that people are protesting his pic before seeing it.
“I think there’s a film that exists in a lot of people’s minds, and it’s not this film,” the helmer says. “There was a whole raft of sites set up and people talking about it from very extreme positions. I’ve tried not to think about that.”
Producer Lantos is no stranger to controversy. He produced David Cronenberg’s “Crash,” which drew the ire of everyone from Ted Turner (whose company distributed the pic) to British censors. Lantos said the threatened boycott of “Ararat” is predictable, “but it’s not controversy I would purposely seek. It’s not like ‘Crash’ being censored in London. That’s a publicist’s dream. (‘Ararat’) is about a piece of history that’s disputed.”
Miramax plans to release “Ararat” in the U.S. this fall.