Members of the local Armenian community will turn out this weekend to show their support for “The Promise,” the first major motion picture that looks at the Armenian Genocide. The production starring Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac opens Friday, April 21.
They are showing support because the movie depicts the events in the early part of the 20th century that resulted in the death of 2.5 million Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks. Past efforts to make a movie based on the tragic events have been stalled because of political pressure from the Turkish government that continues to deny the genocide happened.
Nayiri Saghdejian, who with her father, Abraham Saghdejian, have been a driving force behind the Armenian National Committee of America Hovig Apo Saghdejian Capital Gateway Program. The organization, which assists young professionals and recent college graduates in public policy opportunities in Washington, DC., is sponsoring a private screening on Friday and one on Saturday of the film at the Manchester Stadium 16 that will be attended by local youth groups, members of the Armenian community and local officials.
Saghdejian has been looking forward to the release of the film because the Armenian Genocide “is the biggest wound for any Armenian in the world.” She added that the movie also has a special connection to Fresno because it is one of the last projects completed by Fresno’s Kirk Kerkorian, a businessman and philanthropist who died in 2015. The film was made through his Survival Pictures. All proceeds will be donated to charities.
“He is one of the greatest Armenians to ever live and gave back so much to the Armenian community. This film is a real tribute to him,” Saghdejian said.
The two screenings being sponsored by the Gateway Program are private but Saghdejian stresses it is important for everyone to see the film, especially this weekend. The first weekend box office totals will help set how long a movie remains in theaters.
Seeing the movie, according to Saghdejian, is just another example of the determination of the Armenian people.
“We are pushing and pulling and doing everything we can to maximize the number of people who see this movie,” Saghdejian said. “We want to get everyone we can talking about it.”
There’s plenty of talk locally.
Fresno’s John Chookasezian, a first-generation American Armenian who’s the artistic music director of the Chookasian Armenian Concert Ensemble, relates to the events in “The Promise” because his parents are Armenian Genocide survivors.
He’s happy that Kerkorian was able to get “The Promise” made and called it a “major milestone” in getting the world to understand what happened.
Professor Barlow Der Mugrdechian, chair of the Armenian Studies Program at Fresno State, who will be in Scottsdale, Arizona, to speak after screenings of “The Promise” there, explained that past efforts to make a movie dealing with the Armenian Genocide were blocked because the Turkish government continues to deny the genocide took place.
“Even ‘the Promise’ had trouble finding a distributor because of pressure from the Turkish government,” Der Mugrdechian says.
It was Open Road Films, the studio behind the 2016 Best Picture winner “Spotlight,” that finally stepped up to distribute “The Promise.” It will open in more than 2,200 theaters across the country.
Movies about the Armenian Genocide have been blocked but there have been numerous films and television programs produced dealing with the Jewish Holocaust. Der Mugrdechian explains the difference is that Germany has recognized the Holocaust while Turkey continues its denial.
Der Mugrdechian understands the importance of the film to the Armenian community but he wants the film to get a broader audience. Although it deals with a particular people, the film’s story about the oppression and destruction of a race reflects events happening in the world today.
“It is important to everyone,” Der Mugrdechian said.
Heartland Film, a nonprofit arts organization, agrees as “The Promise” has been honored with the group’s Truly Moving Picture Award. Select theatrically released titles that are inspiring films that do more than entertain receive the coveted industry designation throughout the year.
In a press release to announce the award, Greg Sorvig, Heartland Film’s director of film programming and marketing, said the film is “a sweeping epic which shines an important light on the Armenian Genocide” that will “inspire audiences all over the world.”
“The Promise’ opens just days before April 24, the day when the Armenian Genocide is commemorated.