07 November 2014, 14:52
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Films of the Genocide

At the Venice Film Festival this year, Turkish-German director Fatih Akin presented his newest film called “The Cut”. The historical drama tells the story of a man who is searching for his children in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide. Starting in October, the film began its tour of European theaters and will soon make its way to Russia and Armenia. Until then, it’s worth it to remember the few foreign feature films that, one way or another, refer to the tragic events of 1915.

Ravished Armenia
USA, 1919

The first film concerning the Armenian genocide came to light as early as 1919, when memories of the tragic event were relatively fresh. Oscar Apfel’s “Ravished Armenia” (also known as “Auction of Souls”) was based on the book of memoirs by Aurora Mardiganian who, incidentally, plays herself in the film. Apfel’s early feature depicts the massacre of the Armenians, and follows the main heroine into the Deir ez-Zor desert where she experiences severe torture. Later, Mardiganian falls into the hands of Kurds who sell her into slavery. By the end of the film, however, she is able to escape and find refuge in the United States.

Filmed without the intervention of major studios, “Ravished Armenia” was shown in thirteen US states, as well as several Latin American countries, France, and Great Britain. A significant portion of the revenue from the film was donated to survivors of the genocide. Sadly, since its initial release most copies of “Ravished Armenia” have been lost. It was only recently that a fifteen minute segment was found in Argentina and spread widely over the internet.

 

The Forty Days of Musa Dagh
USA, 1982

Lebanese director Sarky Muradian has produced five movies that are connected to the genocide, among these are both melodramas and historical films. In 1975 Muradian directed “Sons of Sassoun”, a movie that depicts the resistance of Sassoun Armenians against the massacres ordered by Sultan Abdul Hamid II. A few years later he turned to the events of 1915, bringing Franz Werfel’s “Forty Days at Musa Dagh” to the screen. However, Muradian was not able to properly implement the serious subject to film. The result was a low quality movie that would surely have been forgotten had its topic been other than the Genocide.

 

 

Mayrig
France, 1990

Superior to “Ravished Armenia”, it can be said that Henri Verneuil’s “Mayrig” was the first serious film that touched upon the events and consequences of the Armenian Genocide. It’s rather symbolic that Henri Verneuil (born Ashot Malakian), chose to address his family’s past only when he was a well-established figure in the world of French cinema. He first approached the topic with a book and then committed the plot to film. Since Verneuil was somewhat of a legend in the 1980’s, it was no surprise that two renowned actors, Claudia Cardinale and Omar Sharif, agreed to star in his film. “Mayrig” was first shown to Armenian audiences in the early 1990s and was received with much awe and admiration.

Ararat
Canada, 2002

After Verneuil, Atom Egoyan took on the role of “Armenian Ambassador” to the world of film. In the 1990s Egoyan had already won four awards at the Cannes Film Festival and had even caught attention at the Academy Awards. At the time, “Ararat” may have been the director’s most ambitious project. Egoyan was able to gather a cast of well-known actors (Charles Aznavour, Christopher Plummer, Simon Abkarian, Eric Bogosian and others) and through them tried to depict the genocide through various perspectives simultaneously. Most memorable, perhaps, was the storyline of renowned artist Arshile Gorky, played by brilliant French-Armenian actor Simon Abkarian. Overall however, the film was not received well at the Cannes Film Festival and throughout the international film community. Moreover, it was highly criticized in Armenia where the memory of the beloved “Mayrig” was quite fresh and imprinted on the hearts of Armenians.

La Masseria Delle Allodole (The Lark Farm)
Italy, 2007

When Antonia Arslan’s novel was adapted for the screen by prominent Italian film makers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, there was real hope that the result would be a worthy historical representation of the genocide. “La Masseria Delle Allodole” or “The Lark Farm” had a ten million dollar budget and was selected as the opening film for the Golden Apricot Film Festival in 2007. However, the movie did not receive any awards and passed away without much recognition. Later Arslan wrote a sequel to her novel, yet there has been no talk of there being made a second film to follow “The Lark Farm”.

The Failed Musa Dagh
Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios had bought the rights to Forty Days of Musa Dagh even before the book was published. Preliminary preparations for a film began in 1934; the main role was to be played by no other than Clark Gable, though the actor had yet to reach the pinnacle of his fame. When word of the new film reached Turkish diplomats, Ambassador Mehmet Münir Ertegü used all of his connections to interfere with the project. The US government supposedly asked the studio to review the movie script with the Turkish representatives. While the studio complied with this request, Ertegü was not pleased with their presentation. Initially MGM did not wish to stop production, however, after receiving significant bad press they folded, and the film was not made. It is rumored that over the years numerous Hollywood directors and actors have shown interest in reproducing Forty Days of Musa Dagh, but as far as we know they have seen no success.

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