The Promise is directed by Academy Award winner Terry George (Hotel Rwanda).

A Promise Fulfilled

After a long and challenging road, The Promise is set to be released April 21


When was the last time you were overcome with sorrow, empathy, rage or joy in a movie theater? If you cannot remember, you are not alone. Sweeping historical dramas and epic struggles for survival such as Dr. Zhivago or Schindler’s List that can at once provoke a fury of rage and move audiences to tears have become virtually extinct. Hollywood, meanwhile, has become the home of the blockbuster action movie, synonymous with superheroes and comic book villains, at the expense of serious drama and historical fiction. 

In the current risk-averse climate, major Hollywood film studios and movie producers would not consider even looking at a script about a love triangle set against the backdrop of the Armenian Genocide. Further complicating any distribution deal, studios with commercial interests in Turkey would balk at the risk of repercussions from the Turkish government. As a result of the tenacity of the late philanthropist Kirk Kerkorian however, and the dogged pursuit of producer and AGBU Central Board member Eric Esrailian, whom Kerkorian entrusted to realize his life-long dream, the Armenian story one hundred and two years in the making will finally be told as never before in a major motion picture. 

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Chris Cornell of the band Soundgarden composed the theme music for The Promise.

Chris Cornell of the band Soundgarden composed the theme music for The Promise.
Chris Cornell of the band Soundgarden composed the theme music for The Promise. Photo by Zuma Press /Alamy

Scheduled for release in theaters on April 21, 2017, The Promise is directed by Academy Award winner Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) and along with Esrailian, co-produced by renowned Hollywood mogul Mike Medavoy, Ralph Winter and William Horberg—all of whom were well aware of the extent to which the history of the Armenian Genocide has been suppressed by successive governments in Turkey. “Our job was to make a good movie that will engage and entertain everyone who sees it,” Medavoy tells AGBU. “The fact that it sends a powerful political message is even better. Frankly, it is high time those that seek to deny the truth admit what happened and move on from there.” 

Shot in Spain, Portugal and Malta, the film features an outstanding international cast including Golden Globe nominee Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Academy Award winner Christian Bale (The Fighter), Charlotte Le Bon, Angela Sarafyan, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Jean Reno and Marwan Kenzari. The production team intentionally sought out a diverse ensemble of talent, including from the Middle East, but ultimately only succeeded in hiring two Turkish actors as many others refused, admitting they were afraid for their jobs and future careers. 

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Shot in Spain, Portugal and Malta, the film features an outstanding international cast.

Shot in Spain, Portugal and Malta, the film features an outstanding international cast.
Shot in Spain, Portugal and Malta, the film features an outstanding international cast. Photo by Jose Haro/Survival Pictures

The Turkish government continues to deny the massacre of nearly two million Armenians took place and has funded a very well-organized campaign to discredit attempts to recognize the genocide in film, dating to the 1930s when MGM was pressured into abandoning a planned adaptation of Frank Werfel’s novel The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, starring Clark Gable.

Musician and activist Serj Tankian, who contributed a modern rendition of the Armenian folk song, Sari Saroun Yar, to the soundtrack, served as the film’s executive music consultant, providing input from the very first draft of the script years ago to the final cut. “It’s been an honor to be an impartial ear and eye to the film,” Tankian told AGBU. “The best way to counter high budget disinformation campaigns by the Turkish government is to move people with the truth via the arts. I’ve been doing it for years with music and wanted to help do it through film somehow.” 

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Musician and activist Serj Tankian served as the film’s executive music consultant.

Musician and activist Serj Tankian served as the film’s executive music consultant.
Musician and activist Serj Tankian served as the film’s executive music consultant. Photo by Tina Tcholakian

While the film’s producers expected obstacles and resistance to The Promise, they likely may not have anticipated the lengths to which denialists would go even before the official release. The official trailer for the film on YouTube has already been the target of internet trolls, receiving three times as many dislikes as likes, suggesting a concerted PR campaign against the movie is already underway. On the Internet Movie Online Database (IMdB) website, 93,000 users supposedly reviewed the movie—including nearly 60,000 who gave it a one star rating—despite the fact The Promise has only been screened a handful of times to small audiences at Toronto’s International Film Festival (TIFF) and throughout the U.S. where the film garnered high praise from each group. As Mike Medavoy noted, “on the same day we showed the film at a venue with maybe 2,000 seats, 60,000 people said they didn’t like it. There’s nowhere close to that many seats in the theater. The fact that they were stupid enough to attack the movie before even seeing it is ridiculous.” Such transparent efforts at suppression if anything may only succeed in generating more attention and interest in ways that will actually benefit the production. 

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Actor Christian Bale and Co-Producer Eric Esrailian on the set of The Promise.

Actor Christian Bale and Co-Producer Eric Esrailian on the set of The Promise.
Actor Christian Bale and Co-Producer Eric Esrailian on the set of The Promise. Photo by Tina Tcholakian

On the eve of its worldwide release, there is hope The Promise will help people come to terms with the past, and remain vigilant in the future. “I hope people realize that genocide is a man made disease that still occurs today,” Serj Tankian remarked. “And unless we deal with it head-on and honestly, we will be continuing to spiral into chaos as humans on this planet.”  

Banner photo by Jose Haro/Survival Pictures

Originally published in the 2017-02-01​ issue of AGBU Magazine. end character

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AGBU Magazine is of the most widely circulated English language Armenian magazines in the world, available in print and digital format. Each issue delivers insights and perspective on subjects and themes relating to the Armenian world, accompanied by original photography, exclusive high-profile interviews, fun facts and more.