The country has been trying for years to get a Hollywood treatment of the Armenian genocide.
Steven Spielberg / Reuters
Has Armenia's National Film Center pulled off a massive cinematic coup? According to reports
issued last month by some Armenian outlets, the Yerevan-based Film
Center is in negotiations with director Steven Spielberg and Schindler's
List screenwriter Steven Zaillian to make a film about the 1915
Armenian genocide. Per the reports, the film would premier around the
time of the centennial commemoration of the genocide.
So will the director of E.T. and Jurassic Park be lending his
cinematic skills in support of the Armenian cause? Not likely, it would
seem. Following up on the Armenian press report, Turkey's Hurriyet Daily
News checked in
with Vartan Abovian, the deputy director of another organization, the
Armenian National Film Academy, who said he was "baffled by the story"
(although acknowledging that his group also has plans to make a movie
about the events of 1915).
True or not, the Spielberg rumor would only be the latest chapter in the
ongoing battle to bring the story of what happened in 1915 to the big
screen. Armenian groups have for decades tried to get Franz Werfel's
classic 1933 book "Forty Days on Musa Dagh" -- which tells the story of a
small Armenian community's stand against the Ottomans -- made into a
big-budget film, only to have their efforts stymied by Turkish pressure.
In recent years, both Mel Gibson
and Sylvester Stallone expressed an interest in turning Werfel's book
into a movie, though neither has followed through with anything. Here's
what Stallone had to say about his interest in Werfel's book during a
with the Denver Post:
For years Stallone's wanted to create an epic, and the
book that intrigues him is Franz Werfel's "The Forty Days of Musa Dagh,"
detailing the Turkish genocide of its Armenian community in 1915.
(After futile attempts to turn the novel into a movie, filmmakers
finally succeeded in 1982, but it was a low-profile production.)
French ships eventually rescued some Armenians, and Stallone has his
favorite scene memorized: "The French ships come, and they've dropped
the ladders and everybody has climbed up the side. The ships sail. The
hero, the one who set up the rescue, has fallen asleep, exhausted,
behind a rock on the slope above. The camera pulls back, and the ships
and the sea are on one side, and there's one lonely figure at the top of
the mountain, and the Turks are coming up the mountain by the thousands
on the far side."
A pretty great shot.
The movie would be "an epic about the complete destruction of a
civilization," Stallone said. Then he laughed at the ambition. "Talk
about a political hot potato. The Turks have been killing that subject
for 85 years."
At the same time, Hollywood efforts to bring Turkish history to
theaters have faced challenges of their own. When producers in 1998
signed up Antonio Banderas to play Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, modern
Turkey's secularizing founder, in a $25 million film, a Greek-American
group responded with a fierce campaign that ultimately led Banderas to
bow out of the project. As the New York Times reported at the time:
After an intense letter-writing campaign led by
Greek-Americans, Mr. Banderas withdrew from the project. His agent, Lisa
Baum, said he wanted to devote his full energy to another project,
''The Phantom of the Opera.'' Producers of the Ataturk film, however,
say Mr. Banderas was reacting to pressure from Greek-Americans and
others who consider Ataturk unworthy of favorable portrayal.