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IFFBoston ’17 Review: Intent to Destroy

Joe Berlinger returns to IFFBoston in 2017 with INTENT TO DESTROY, a film that tells the history of the Armenian Genocide through the making of THE PROMISE, a new film set during the Armenian Genocide from director Terry George.

The massacre of 1.5 million Armenians during World War I happened before there was a word to describe it. Today, we know the word all too well: genocide. For 102 years, Armenians have struggled to define what happened to their people under the guise of war. To this day, denial of the Armenian Genocide by Turkey and its supporters stretches beyond the boundaries of politics to include attempts to prevent these war crimes’ depiction in film.

The film opens at the first table read for Terry George’s script for THE PROMISE, a production financed independently by late-billionaire Kirk Kerkorian. While there have been many great documentaries chronicling the terrible acts perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire, there have been many unsuccessful attempts at a more traditional narrative film about the topic. This film is unique in that it not only educates viewers on the history, but gives you modern perspective through the making of a film.

For over a hundred years, the government of Turkey has taken steps to not just deny that a genocide occurred, but have used their powerful lobbies to disrupt and stop the story from being told. The film covers some of these moments in great detail, going all the way back to 1936. MGM was seeking to adapt THE FORTY DAYS OF MUSAGH DAGH to the big screen with director Rouben Mamoulian at the helm. Unfortunately, Turkey successfully lobbied the US State Department to block the film from being made. These attempts to disrupt and dissuade extend to modern day, which is why THE PROMISE was made mostly in secret. But that didn’t stop from actors of the film being contacted by various representatives of the Turkish government with denialist propaganda. There’s a great story from Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan talking about an awkward meeting from a representative of the Turkish government, and receiving countless letters from former Turkish military as well as death threats. The film features many interviews with scholars and historians, as well as notable members of the Armenian community. In one of the most moving sequences of the film, Berlinger juxtaposes the gut-wrenching first hand accounts from survivors with the filming of one of the most horrifying scenes in THE PROMISE.

INTENT TO DESTROY’s ability to educate on the history of denial through the lens of modern day was perfect. The story of the genocide is still widely unknown because of decades of politics, and its great to see a talent like Berlinger bring the story to a wider audience. With a premiere at Tribeca, I have no doubt the film will continue to make its rounds, don’t miss it!

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