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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 01 July 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 1 JULY 2017 21 ENTERTAINMENT OPINION The Promise shows the horrors of genocide, and denial Set during the fi nal years of the Ottoman Empire, Terry George’s fi lm sheds light on the nightmares Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians have lived with for decades - the brutal massacre and genocide of millions, and the denial that it ever happened ANASTASIA TSIRTSAKIS Sophie Kesoglidis happen.” It is this go-getter attitude that sent her to Los Angeles to pursue a Master's of Producing at the American Film Institute. "This is the school where students such as Patty Jenkins (director of the recent Wonder Woman film) and David Lynch (Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive) learnt their filmmaking craft", she says. "It was an honour to study at an institution, where James L Brooks, the executive producer of The Simpsons, is the head of the school. While there I produced a short film called Emergency Preparedness shot on the Seinfeld set at CBS Radford. An incredible opportunity. Essentially I love the arts, so as long as I'm being creative, with my viola or a video camera, I'm happy.” *To book a ticket for the next Friday Night at the NGV event, go to ngv.vic. gov.au/whats-on/programsevents/?type=fridaynights *Find out more about Alto Strings on their website: altoproductions.com.au The release of Terry George’s The Promise has been awaited around the world with great anticipation. So much so, that before the film was even made available for public viewing, it had tens of thousands of reviews online, many of which were one-star ratings with comments including “F**king liars made a movie about so-called Armenian genocide” and “This is a lesson that you don’t f**k with Turks”. But it was never going to be smooth sailing, rehashing such a controversial point in history. For Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians the world over, the film’s release was a relief. Familiar with the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide through the memories of Pontic Greeks, I understood what it would mean for those who had grown up hearing about their relatives losing their homes, their way of life, and loved ones at the outset of World War I, seeing 1.5 million Armenians, 750,000 Pontic Greeks and 500,000 Assyrians killed between 1915 and 1922. While horrors such as these can never, and should never, be forgotten, the memories are NEWS Donikian: ‘SBS had more licence to say what was right in 1980 and not just what was easy’ Founding anchor of SBS World News Australia, George Donikian, has slammed SBS over their refusal to recognise the Armenian genocide. In a video created by the Greek Armenian for Australian screenings of The Promise, he said, "I'm ashamed to see that our multicultural broadcaster has chosen not to call what happened at the turn of the 20th century a genocide because it says it's following the Australian government's official stance. Now I under- stand the subtleties of politics, but I think it's even more important to tell the truth." In response to questioning by Senator Ludlam, SBS Managing Director Michael Ebid told Senate estimates in May that SBS News and Current Affairs has a policy that instructs reporters to refer to this time as "a mass killing of Armenians considered by many to have been a genocide, which Turkey denies" explaining, “I think, you know, as long as the Australian government doesn’t call it a genocide, I think it is very difficult for us to do that. We would probably change our protocol if the Australian government had a different perspective on it.” This has angered the Armenian Australian community. While Turkish governments have continued to maintain the idea that they were putting down a revolution, Mr Donikian says he "begs to differ". "I say it was genocide and to suggest all three groups have lied over the years and even colluded to tell the same story about what happened is both unimaginable and grotesque," he said of the Greeks and Assyrians who were also victims. Mr Donikian's grandfather was a survivor of the genocide, one of the 400,000 Armenians who escaped, and in the video Donikian reveals details of him being helped by the Italians who then transferred him to the island of Lesvos before he settled in Athens. "My mentor Bruce Gyngell would be deeply disappointed as his SBS had more licence to say what was right in 1980 and not just what was easy," he said. "For many of us [the] screenings will be very painful, but I think it's better to experience the pain now than to keep denying that these things ever happened as the Turkish governments have done from day one. "Once again, I'm George Donikian and I promise never to forget," he concluded. particularly raw a hundred years on as the Turkish government continues to deny it ever happened. The historical drama, written by Terry George and Robin Swicord, starts off in the lead-up to the genocide at the turn of the century in the small Armenian village of Sirun, where Mikel (Oscar Issac) is negotiating a betrothal with a local girl in a bid to move to Constantinople with the money from her dowry to pursue studies in medicine. Once in the city, he meets with his uncle, a wealthy merchant, through whom he is introduced to Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), an intelligent and beautiful Armenian woman who was mostly raised in France. There is an undeniable energy between them, which quickly sees a love triangle develop; Ana is involved with Chris (Christian Bale), a Paris-based American journalist who is passionate about documenting the mounting tensions between the Turks and local Armenian population. When tensions truly break out with the start of the First World War, Mikel is exempt from joining the military but is taken prisoner in a labour camp. One thing leads to another – it’s a drama after all – and Mikel finds his way back to Sirun where he is urged by his mother to fulfil his promise to marry his betrothed. But just as he appears to be adjusting to village life, the Turkish military continue to make their way through sites once peacefully inhabited by Armenian families, tearing them apart. While the romantic plot is consistent throughout and the aesthetic is Hollywoodesque, for those aware of the film’s historical significance any argument that the ‘romantic saga’ overpowers the true narrative at play seems more so to call into question the viewers’ ability to feel empathy. The pain, loss, confusion, uncertainty, and pure fear communicated on screen, namely by Issac’s strong onscreen performance, are undeniable. While the history is of the early 1900s, it is as relevant as ever when it comes to the displacement of people. One cannot help but draw parallels between the minority of Armenians who escaped and are seen being saved on boats by their French ally, with the recent ongoing refugee crisis that has seen some 200,000 Syrian refugees arrive on Greece’s shores. The romantic complexity hasn’t rated highly amongst critics, and while admittedly unoriginal, it does well in bringing the storyline closer to home for those who cannot identify with the migrant experience. Everyone has fallen in love at least once no? (If not, see point one about empathy.) It’s questionable how long it would have taken for a film of this calibre to be made about the genocide, had it not been for the late Armenian American philanthropist Kirk Kerkorian who donated the entire $90 million budget. While only grossing US$8 million at the box office, it’s evident that the large budget, along with the involvement of A-listers like Bale, was not in vain but rather worked to garner as much attention as possible to the history, and the cause. So far more than 20 countries, and two Australian states, have recognised the massacre as a genocide, and while not adequate, The Promise as a film – admittedly with its imperfec- tions - has already proven useful in spurring dialogue about the atrocities carried out against the Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian peoples; a painful reality passed on through generations. When it comes to historical memory, much can be taken from the German approach, where the willingness and open approach to discussing the Jewish Holocaust is striking. In my own experience with guides and locals, the reason cited is that by being completely transparent about the wrongdoings of the past, by recognising them, and choosing to never forget, that it will help in moving forward and prove as a reminder for future generations of a time they would not want to repeat. While The Promise is a film and not in fact a historical record, as the credits roll and authentic photographs from the time depict people being killed and others on boats being transferred to safety, you can’t help but wonder; how can each successive Turkish government have continued to deny such atrocities? And what will people continue to be capable of if this denial continues?
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08 July 2017