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Hotel Rwanda director Terry George on Monday told reporters at the Toronto International Film Festival that the Armenian genocide needs to be recognized and no longer denied, especially by the Turkish government.
“Let’s bring the discussion out into the open here,” George said at a press conference for his Armenian genocide drama, The Promise, which stars Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale and had its world premiere on Sunday night.
“But we want it in a situation of how you stop this [genocide] in the future,” he said. Adding urgency to the debate, George said historians have established that denial of the Armenian genocide helped shape Adolf Hitler’s decision to invade Poland, a precursor to the Holocaust.
He recounted a historical account of a 1939 meeting between Hitler and his German generals where the invasion of Poland was discussed and the Nazi leader at one point claimed, “Who now speaks of the Armenians?”
“So the very suppression of that [Armenian genocide] event and the fact that it hadn’t been recognized became the justification for more slaughter,” George argued.
The Promise focuses on an Armenian medical student (Isaac), an artist (Charlotte Le Bon) and an American journalist (Bale) who form a love triangle amid the backdrop of the First World War massacre. Septembers of Shiraz star Shohreh Aghdashloo recalled production of the historical romancer taking place as real-life footage of Syrian refugees heading towards Europe played out nightly on TV news channels.
“We were watching Syrians walking miles to get to a safe place on CNN every night, while we were shooting,” she recalled. George said epic war movies with love stories in them like Gone With the Wind, Reds and The Killing Fields are crucial to allowing viewers to see historical events from the inside, and not just through history books or news accounts.
“For a filmmaker, it’s an opportunity through the characters you create to take an audience inside those catastrophic or enormous events and let them see them from the inside,” he explained. George said the irony is a genre that has produced box-office hits like Schindler’s List, The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now has gone out of favor.
“The catastrophe of cinema at the moment is it’s being neglected in favor of higher grosses at the box office. It would be a real tragedy if this genre died out,” he said.
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