×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Armenian Genocide Movie ‘The Promise’ Screens at Vatican With Director Terry George and Talent (EXCLUSIVE)

Film faces U.S. release challenges

ROME – “The Promise,” a movie about the Armenian genocide, screened at the Vatican on Tuesday with director Terry George, producer Eric Esrailian and some talent in attendance, in a clear sign of Catholic Church support ahead of the film’s upcoming U.S. release.

The big-budget epic was bankrolled by late billionaire Kirk Kerkorian. Its lead actors, Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac, did not make the trek to Vatican City, but the intimate event held for Vatican officials in the 50-seat Vatican Cinematheque’s screening room was attended by stars Shohreh Aghdashloo and James Cromwell and by singer-songwriter Chris Cornell, who composed the theme song.

The Vatican screening comes after Pope Francis last year made his first visit to Armenia. During the visit, he used the term “genocide” to describe the slaughter of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I.

The pope’s remark sparked an angry reaction by the Turkish government, which strongly denies that a genocide occurred, arguing that it was wartime and many Turks were killed as well and insisting there was never a systematic plan to execute Armenians.

Esrailian, head of Survival Pictures, which he set up with Kerkorian to produce “The Promise,” traveled to Armenia for the papal visit.

“When he [Pope Francis] mentioned the word ‘genocide’ once in the big Mass, you could hear a kind of collective gasp and people getting tearful because he spoke really as a world leader,” Esrailian recalled. He noted that Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, “so it has a special place in Catholicism.”

“When there was awareness [within the Vatican] that a major film was being made, we were contacted to screen the movie. So we sent a private link to be viewed,” he said.

“The Promise,” which world-premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last September, will go on wide release in the U.S. on 2,000 screens via Open Road Films on April 21.

The roughly $100-million film is considered a breakthrough after several attempts to make a Hollywood film about the Armenian genocide failed during past decades because of what director Terry George calls a “denialist lobby,” which these days is efficiently run by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he claims.

George said there was a denialist propaganda machine behind “The Ottoman Lieutenant,” a film with strikingly similar elements to “The Promise,” but which allegedly takes the side of the denialists. “Ottoman Lieutenant” went on release via New York-based Paladin on roughly 200 screens in the U.S. in March.

“It’s an Erdogan propaganda film released as a feature film in the United States, remarkably, just ahead of us,” the director said. “The Ottoman Lieutenant,” which stars Josh Hartnett and Ben Kingsley, was produced by a Turkish company called Eastern Sunrise Films.

Variety critic Dennis Harvey, in his review of “The Ottoman Lieutenant,” wrote that, “[in] this primarily Turkish-funded production, the historical, political, ethnic and other intricacies — not to mention that perpetual elephant in the room, the Armenian Genocide, which commenced in 1915 — are glossed over in favor of a generalized ‘Whattaya gonna do… war is bad’ aura that implies conscience without actually saying anything.”

“The Promise” faces its own challenges, including tepid reviews. Variety critic Peter Debruge called it “a sloggy melodrama in which the tragedy of a people is forced to take a back seat to a not especially compelling love triangle.”

“The Promise” centers on a love story involving a medical student (Isaac), a journalist (Bale), and the Armenian woman (Charlotte Le Bon) who steals their hearts. All three find themselves grappling with the Ottomans’ decision to begin rounding up and persecuting Armenians.

“The construct of the love triangle is clearly there for people who are unaware of the genocide or not particularly that interested in it,” said George. “It’s a big, old-fashioned love story. I think we’ve created a classic form of story, and hopefully women in particular will be entertained by it,” the director added.

As part of its marketing strategy, Survival Pictures has launched a #KeepThePromise social impact campaign for which it has already recruited Elton John, Barbara Streisand, Andre Agassi, Cher, Sylvester Stallone, among others, for an anti-genocide call to action connected to the film which has a strong philanthropic aspect. Survival Pictures’ cut of the box office will go to charities including The Sentry, the non-profit group co-founded by George Clooney and activist and author John Prendergast.

More Film

  • New Fox Appoints Wayne Borg to

    New Fox Appoints Wayne Borg to Los Angeles Studio Role

    Wayne Borg, who has headed the Fox Studios Australia operations in Sydney for the past four years, has been appointed president and general manager of studios at New Fox. He will relocate from Australia to Los Angeles. Fox Studios Australia, which is to remain part of 21st Century Fox and will become part of Disney [...]

  • Lisa Borders Time's Up

    Time's Up President Lisa Borders Resigns

    Lisa Borders has resigned as president of Time’s Up, she and the organization announced on Monday. Borders is resigning due to family issues, she said in a statement. Time’s Up COO Rebecca Goldman will now serve as interim CEO. “As Time’s Up continues to grow, I am proud of the work I have done to [...]

  • Keira Knightly as "Rachael Morgan" in

    Film Review: Keira Knightley in 'The Aftermath'

    Less widely seen (and acclaimed) than it deserved to be, James Kent’s debut feature “Testament of Youth” was one of the great recent love-in-wartime dramas, translating the intimate romance and sprawling human tragedy of Vera Brittain’s WWI memoir with a grace and heft worthy of its David Lean allusions. Four years on, it’s not hard [...]

  • Inside Amazon's New Feature Film Strategy

    Amazon's New Film Strategy: Straight-to-Service Titles and Starry Sundance Buys

    It was close to midnight when Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke got the text. The company had failed in its quest to acquire “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” a body image dramedy that captivated Salke when she saw it at Sundance. A sales agent on the project messaged her to say that a competitor offered a [...]

  • Alfonso Cuaron71st Annual Writers Guild Awards,

    Alfonso Cuarón on Academy's 'Inevitable' Reversal on Televised Oscar Categories

    Alfonso Cuarón isn’t exactly surprised that the Academy reversed its decision and will now air all the Oscar categories during the live show on Sunday. Feb. 24. Calling the decision “inevitable,”Cuarón tells Variety that he thinks the Academy should take things even further. “Let’s stop calling them technical categories!” he told Variety on Sunday night [...]

  • TorinoFilmLab Announces Selections for 2019 ScriptLab

    TorinoFilmLab Announces Selections for 2019 ScriptLab (EXCLUSIVE)

    The TorinoFilmLab has announced the 20 feature projects and five story editor trainees who have been selected to take part in the 2019 edition of ScriptLab, an initiative focused on the development of fiction feature film scripts in early development stage. Beginning in March, this year’s participants will team up with filmmakers from around the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content