Promise, The: Interview with Director Terry George

Terry George’s The Promise is set in 1914, when the Great War looms, and the Ottoman Empire is crumbling.

The films I have loved and admired most were those that took audiences inside momentous human events, films that immersed us in history in a visceral and unique way.

The greatest non-fiction films such as Schindler’s List, The Killing Fields, Reds, The Battle of Algiers, and historical dramas such as A Man for All Seasons, Doctor Zhivago and Apocalypse Now.

Within the course of a few hours I experienced anger, fear, empathy, real sorrow and sometimes real joy. No other cinema genre could move me in that way.  I left the theater overwhelmed. I had been guided through historic moments by characters I would not forget.

As a filmmaker, my challenge is to find stories and characters that allow me to take cinemagoers inside an event about which they had little or no knowledge, and show them that the human spirit can survive and triumph in the most adverse of circumstances.

This was the motivation for me and my writing partner, director Jim Sheridan, with In the Name of the Father and The Boxer, and my challenge as a director with Some Mother’s Son and Hotel Rwanda.

Three years ago I was lucky enough to be offered a script by Robin Swicord. The Promise is a love story set during the days of the Armenian Genocide, one of the greatest and least known catastrophes of the 20th century.

This attempt to eradicate an entire nation has almost disappeared from the history books because of collective denial and political expediency. It is a story that I believe demands to be told in cinematic form. But how do you get audiences to experience such a horrific and foreign event?

I looked to the great cinematic masters for inspiration. David Lean. who took us into the Russian Revolution in Dr. Zhivago and into the Irish War of Independence in Ryan’s Daughter. Warren Beatty, who allowed us to experience the Russian Revolution through the eyes of John Reid in Reds. They both used romance to lure audiences into seats. They told great love stories that were inextricably woven into the story of these momentous events.

As we fell in love with their characters, we also learned of the hardships, the joy and the pain they experienced as part of history. Co-writing and directing The Promise presented me with a truly unique opportunity. I have been able to work with amazingly talented people, Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac and Charlotte Le Bon, and many other great actors to tell a love story that I hope will not only captivate and move audiences, but will also take audiences inside the calamity that befell the Armenian people in 1915 and to allow them witness real historical events, experience joy, feel fear, witness courage, sorrow and redemption.

Most importantly, I hope that The Promise will educate audiences about an event that deserves to be recognized, remembered and honored around the world. What greater opportunity could a film maker ask for?