From 1915 to 1923, over 1.5 million men, women, and children were systemically exterminated, in what shockingly became known as the Armenian Genocide. These innocent people were driven out of their homes, forced into work camps, and eventually brutally slaughtered while trying to flee to freedom. But in the midst of this horrific tragedy, an unlikely love triangle emerged, whose romantic story is portrayed in the stunning new film The Promise. As a beautiful young teacher travels with an American journalist, determined to bring worldwide attention to the mass executions, a new love interest unfolds when she meets a brilliant medical student in Constantinople.
The Promise, inspired by true events, stars Golden Globe Award winner Oscar Isaac (The Nativity Story, Show Me a Hero) as Mikael, Charlotte Le Bon (The Hundred-Foot Walk) as Ana, and Academy Award winner Christian Bale (The Fighter, The Dark Knight Rises) as journalist Chris Myers. Produced by Survival Pictures and distributed by Open Road Films, the film was directed by Academy Award winner Terry George (Hotel Rwanda, Hart’s War). Shot on location in Portugal, Malta, and Spain, the film captures sweeping coastal views and majestic countryside, giving a sense of place and time. The film made its debut at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2016 and releases in theatres April 21st.
Hollywood executive film producer Ralph Winter has been responsible for such blockbusters as X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Star Trek. Winter’s films have collectively grossed over $2 billion. As a Believer, he has shown a fondness for working with Christian authors such as Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti. As a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, as well as the Directors’ Guild of America, Winter speaks around the country about filmmaking and faith.
Sonoma Christian Home had access to an exclusive phone interview with producer Ralph Winter to learn more about this historically important, and thought-provoking film. SCH Editor At Large Melanie Pickett reports.
SCH: What drew you to this project?
Ralph Winter: I live in Glendale, California, which is a very large Armenia Community, and I knew about the genocide because I’d marched in some of the parades with my friends in Hollywood and Los Angeles in the past. When the script came to me, I immediately was eager to jump in and get involved. I had some knowledge, but I was not as well researched as the screenplay. I was already familiar with the story in general, but it was fun to get to the details and bring that out in more color and more texture, and more emotion.
SCH: Why do you feel it is important to share this historical story now?
RW: This story has been wanting to be told for many, many years. There are a lot of lower budget versions of this story that have been told by well-intended Armenian community efforts, but no one has had the resources to tell it on this size canvas. Kirk Kerkorian, who funded the movie through his Lincy Foundation, had tried to make it when he ran MGM, and he couldn’t get the studio to do it back then. Because he was so fortunate in business, he was able to write a large check to get the movie made.
This is not the first time this story has been told, but it’s the first time it has been told on this scale. You know, in a culture that is busy and noisy with so many things being thrown at you, this is clearly an attempt to do it big, get the right talent attached, and tell the story that unfortunately repeats itself and – unfortunately repeats itself in the news – on a daily basis around the world about cultural persecution but also religious persecution. Christians are persecuted in this movie. It has just been happening over and over again, and this movie is wanting to serve as a reminder that this isn’t the first time and it will continue if we don’t do something!
SCH: During production of the film, did you witness anything that you knew was God’s providence?
RW: I can’t think of a specific incident on set, but I think that the fact that this movie got made and distributed – the studios didn’t want to distribute this. It’s too hot to handle. I think that when we showed the movie – we had four screenings in Toronto and the IMDB review process blew up with 100,000 reviews, most of them negative. There are links to that story on IMDB. But we showed it to four screenings and maybe 3,000 people. There couldn’t be 100,000 reviews and that was clearly an attack coming to discredit the film.
There’s been a movie out recently trying to discredit this movie. We don’t expect any violence now, but we did have a security team in place. We did check with the State Department every time I moved the actors on an airplane to be sure that we weren’t inadvertently walking into a problem. But I think the fact that the movie has been made and being released, is nothing short of providential. It’s nothing short of God’s protective hand.
SCH: Did this film encourage or strengthen your faith in any way?
RW: I think personally I am encouraged about this. We come from a long line of people who trust in God and pray for mercy and justice, and we don’t always understand the outcome. The fact that not just in 1915 – we believe as Christians it’s been happening for a very long time to people in relationship with God. It’s encouraging to see other people on camera in a current movie praying for God’s mercy and assistance. I am encouraged by that and was encouraged, and those scenes for me, are particularly emotional and particularly impactful.
SCH: What is the main message that you would like viewers to take away from this film?
RW: I think certainly for non-Armenian audience viewers is your reaction of “I didn’t know this. I wasn’t aware of this. Why didn’t I hear this before?” We are hoping that the message gets out that this in fact did take place, that this is real, and it is the truth. It’s not fake news. Mikael’s struggle in the movie is about keeping the promise, the promise he makes to his fiancé, and the promise he makes to his mother. I think what we’re trying to tag in the marketing is keeping the promise of telling the story again and again, so that we don’t forget, and it doesn’t happen again. That we can admit that it happened, call it genocide, move on, get along and live together.
But if we ignore the story and we think that what’s happening in Syria is an outlier, we’re going to be sadly disappointed because there’s an unfortunate history and recurrence. It’s not just happening for the first time. People in the current news are emboldened because people have gotten away with it in the past. That’s what we need to stop!
SCH: What else would you like viewers to know about this visually stunning and profound film?
RW: I think it is an impactful movie for Christians to see. I think that Christians are well portrayed in the movie. It is a heroic struggle. It’s an old-fashioned movie which I think Sonoma Christian Home readers will appreciate. We made the movie to entertain people and to stimulate them to think, and to tell the story of this journey. We think that’s worthwhile and hope your readers do too.
The Promise is now available on DVD. This film is an important part of Christian and world history that has been denied and silenced for decades. To read more about the Armenian Genocide, please visit The Promise movie.