Kirk Kerkorian was the man of the hour at the premiere of the “The Promise.”
The late businessman, who died in 2015, invested $100 million to bring the Armenian Genocide epic to the big screen after other productions weren’t able to escape what’s been dubbed the “denialist lobby.”
Director Terry George, who also dealt with the topic of genocide in the Oscar-nominated “Hotel Rwanda,” said the cast and crew were cautious about staying under the radar during filming.
“I knew when it was explained to me who was funding this and what the background was, I knew we were on firm ground with Kirk Kerkorian’s foundation and that this was a serious attempt to tell the story,” he said. “Far from reservations; I was invigorated by that. We had the resources and the drive to do it.”
The premiere, held on Wednesday night at Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre, also brought out stars Christian Bale, Charlotte Le Bon, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Angela Sarafyan, James Cromwell, and Marwan Kenzari. Oscar Isaac wasn’t in attendance as he was getting ready to welcome his first child with girlfriend Elvira Lind.
Cromwell said Hollywood has been hesitant to tackle the politically fraught subject for more than 100 years. Turkey continues to deny that 1.5 million Armenians were systematically exterminated in 1915 at the order of the Ottoman empire.
“There was an extraordinary man, Kirk Kerkorian, who knew this industry and who knew that a film about the Armenian Genocide would never be made,” he said. “Finally at the end of his life, he said, ‘I will pony up $100 million, we will make this film.’ And even with Terry as director, $100 million, and a script, they still could not sell this picture to Hollywood. Mike Medavoy stepped up, but for the rest of Hollywood, ‘no,’ because they didn’t want to be associated with something they thought was going to go in the toilet or cause a lot of ire with any other project they had that might go Turkey, might be denied the Turkish market.”
The veteran actor also noted that the United States’ refusal to recognize the Armenian Genocide reflects a systematic problem.
“For whatever reason, this community flinched. This country flinches in its responsibility for the devastation of Syria and Yemen and Libya and Iraq and Afghanistan and Somalia and the Sudan and everywhere,” he added. “If we do not acknowledge our responsibility for events like this, our history, then we are doomed to repeat them, which is what we’re doing.”
President Barack Obama reneged on his 2008 campaign pledge that said, “As President, I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”
System of a Down’s Serj Tankian, “The Promise’s” executive music consultant, who has long advocated for genocide recognition, said Obama’s broken promise was “extremely disappointing.”
“It was very disappointing that he would cow to political capital like that having to do with Turkey’s pressure being a NATO ally,” he said. “As we can see, [Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan is a madman and Turkey needs the U.S. more than the U.S. needs Turkey.”
Cromwell said there’s a higher chance of recognition under President Donald Trump “because he’s insane.”
“We have elected an insane man as president of the United States and he has appointed people who are, in my mind, spiritually dead to run the country, so now the American people can look at their government and say it does not work,” he said. “We must take it back. It’s called we the people, it’s not called we the 1%. It’s not we industrialists. It’s we the people.”
According to Cromwell, Americans will be moved to take to the streets to demand justice and picket the Turkish embassy until the genocide is recognized and restitutions are paid.
“The Promise” has already been forced to surmount several obstacles. When the film world-premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last September, its IMDb page received a flood of negative ratings.
“When we were at the Toronto International Film Festival at its original premiere, this is the L.A. premiere, but that was the first time it was seen and only a theater full of people saw it,” Tankian said. “We had tens of thousands of 0 votes stemming from Anatolia on IMDb so there was a campaign to try to discredit the film. I thought ‘that’s really ridiculous.’ This is a film — it’s media, it’s cultural. To use it as a political weapon in that sense is unfair. But that’s good, that means the denialists are afraid and we want them to be afraid.”
Eric Esrailian, one of the film’s producers, who set up Survival Pictures with Kerkorian to finance the film, said before the movie’s screening that “storytelling allows us to heal in many ways. After 102 years of denial and lies, the healing begins tonight.”
According to reps, all of the proceeds from the film will be donated to charity, including George Clooney and John Prendergast’s non-profit The Sentry.
“The Promise” centers on a love triangle between an Armenian medical student (Isaac), a renowned American journalist (Bale), and an Armenian woman (Charlotte Le Bon).
Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, who wrote a song for the film, said being swept away by the drama will help audiences grasp the powerful message.
“I went to school in the U.S. and I wasn’t taught about the Armenian or Greek genocide in history class,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s due in part to the denial of it or what it is. It’s one of those things where it’s a story that needs to be told. And I think it needs to be told and retold. … We need to at some point as human beings preempt this from happening. Genocide is occurring right now on this planet. It’s not something of the past, it’s something unfortunately of now, and unfortunately probably will be of the future.”
Other notable guests included Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Don Cheadle, Kim Kardashian West, Kourtney Kardashian, and Dean Cain, who are part of the #KeepThePromise social impact campaign. Netflix COO Ted Sarandos also attended the event, along with new Paramount Chairman/CEO Jim Gianopulos, who was spotted chatting with Orlando Bloom at the after-party at The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Bloom was later joined by Nina Dobrev. Guests dined on fish and chips, avocado toast, chicken sliders, and other hors d’oeuvres at the event.
Open Road’s “The Promise” hits theaters on April 21.