"The Promise" puts spotlight on Armenian Genocide
Next week marks 102 years since the genocide of more than 1.5 million Armenians, at the hands of Ottoman Empire.
You'll find details about this in some history books -- not everyone recognizes the atrocity.
But Hollywood is now sharing the story, in the movie “The Promise.”
It’s being released in 2,000 theatres (including Fresno) Friday, April 21st.
The movie focuses on a love triangle involving Chris Myers (Christian Bale), his girlfriend, Ana (Charlotte LeBon) and a medical student named Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac).
Bale plays a reporter for the Associated Press, covering growing unrest in Constantinople.
Ana meets Mikael, who is living with his uncle. They bond over their common Armenian heritage, and the relationship grows from there.
But the universal storyline of love and loss takes a back seat to the increased killings of Armenians by Turkish soldiers, who had just entered World War I in October of 1914.
“The Armenians are a tumor in our meat,” one military leader says in the movie.
Academy Award-winning director Terry George says it was a story he needed to share.
"As one of the big catastrophes of the 20th century, the opportunity to tell the story and enlighten people, I couldn't pass that up," George says.
The film, with a budget of approximately $100 million, was a passion project of the late MGM owner head Kirk Kerkorian.
George says there were challenges working on the film.
Specifically, keeping it low key.
"It's a very antagonistic and heavily debated subject," he says.
Turkey denies the atrocity ever happened.
So far, the United States has not formally recognized the genocide.
Members of the media were the witnesses who had the responsibility of sharing what was happening with the world.
“Armenians are being sent to the desert to be murdered!” screamed Bale’s character, in a dispatch he was sending to the AP.
"We were really careful to fly under the radar. No press, no paparazzi,” he says. “We were careful with extras."
The story takes the audience through the heartbreak of losing loved ones, to exposing the hatred that fueled their killings -- and the desperate rush to escape.
Orphans are loaded into wagons, and scramble for the coast, praying they'll be rescued.
Along the way, they pass piles of bodies.
People who were forced to leave their homes, only to be slaughtered.
The tragedy hit home for actress Angela Sarafyan, who played Maral.
Her character was betrothed to Mikael (he used the dowry to pay for medical school).
The actress — of Armenian descent – says it was crucial to be part of this film.
She lost family members in the genocide.
"My grandmothers' grandmother and her two sisters … their parents were taken away. The soldiers came and took them away," she says.
"It's a story my ancestors and relatives and all Armenians have been waiting for. And finally it's here. I love that I can be a part of telling it in that way, rather being something you scream about or march about. There's art involved."
George hopes viewers will take away feelings of empathy, sorrow, joy-- and awareness.
Many Armenians sought refuge in Aleppo, Syria.
That city is now at the center of mass killings, too.
"We have hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the same way and they're not that different from these Armenians," he says.