A century of censorship and denial could not extinguish the truth.
Pulling back the curtain on Genocide censorship in Hollywood due to U.S. government pressure to appease a strategic ally, Intent To Destroy embeds with a historic feature production as a springboard to explore the violent history of the Armenian Genocide and legacy of Turkish suppression and denial over the past century.
Joe Berlinger’s thirteenth feature documentary film captures the cinematic and political challenges of producing a historically meaningful, big-budget feature film in an environment rife with political suppression and threats of retaliation. In 2015, Academy Award-winning director Terry George (Hotel Rwanda, In the Name of the Father) took on the challenge of making the first mainstream film about the Armenian Genocide, despite previous failed attempts. Beginning production in 2015 on what George hopes will be the Armenian “Schindler’s List”, he directs The Promise, a sweeping World War I romantic drama set in the heart of the Ottoman Empire during the 1915 Armenian Genocide that wiped out 1.5 million Armenians. Provided unrestricted on-set access, Berlinger followed the production as it shot in Spain, Malta and Portugal, using the on-set behind-the-scenes experience as a lens to explore the reality and complexities of the actual Genocide and its subsequent denial.
Berlinger juxtaposes evocative and beautifully shot scenes from the feature film with actual archival images from the period, along with present day interviews from a variety of experts, allowing the documentary to depict the reality of the atrocities carried out against the Armenians by the Ottoman Turks in a haunting and cinematic manner. Additionally, Berlinger uses the present-day film production to provide a framework for a systematic examination of a century of historical perversion by the Turks and those who have an interest in denying the Genocide. Turkish lobbying efforts have shuttered previous American film and literary productions that used the Armenian Genocide as a backdrop, making the release of The Promise the product of nearly 80 years of work and setbacks to bring this story to the big screen as a mainstream Hollywood production. Moreover, since the end of World War I, Turkey has successfully shaped international perception of what most historians consider the first genocide of the twentieth century, largely removing it from international consciousness through lobbying and threats of retaliation.
Throughout the film, Berlinger turns the camera on these efforts, exposing how Turkish officials have used cultural and diplomatic coercion to subvert international academia, forcefully muzzle advocates and use its geographic placement and geopolitical connections to strong-arm America and other key allies into accepting their version of history.