The Canadian writer-director of a controversial film about Turkey’s historical genocide says he’s surprised a country that seemed so committed to starting a dialogue about its painful past has postponed screening the film amid fears of attacks.
Atom Egoyan, whose award-winning film Ararat was scheduled to begin showing in Turkey on Jan. 16, said he’s still waiting to hear more details from the Turkish film distributor about why its screening was scuttled.
“The only way I can understand this being postponed is if these threats were taken very seriously. What I can’t determine is whether the threats were against the distributor or against the government as well,” he said, noting that he has been scouring the Internet looking for credible information.
Just before the new year, the Turkish cultural minister agreed to release the film, saying it could trigger a dialogue.
“All of those were huge and significant statements, so it seems surprising to me that a few days later the whole process is scuttled and postponed,” Egoyan said.
Ararat focuses on the bloody years between 1915 and 1923, when 1.5 million Armenians died while being expelled from Turkey, and carries forward to the present, depicting a family in modern-day, multicultural Toronto, struggling to deal with the wounds left by the genocide.
Turkish nationalists have denounced it as propaganda and the former Turkish cultural minister refused to allow it to be screened.
“I’ve had lots of threats making this movie, all the way along, actually … but I really didn’t take them seriously,” Egoyan said.
The Armenian National Committee of Canada said the film distributor, Istanbul-based Belge Films, pulled the film’s release after receiving threats from Ulku Ocaklari, a group with ties to the Grey Wolves, a nationalist paramilitary group, as well as the Turkish military and intelligence units.
Egoyan said he’s uncertain of the exact nature of the threats, but acknowledged that the group has a history of violence.
“I really don’t know the internal situation enough, but I do know that that group was linked to a number of very violent actions,” he said. “I do know that this group is very opposed to the government on this issue. It sees the government as a traitor to the Turkish nationalist cause.”
Egoyan suspects the people making the threats haven’t seen the film.
“It’s a complex and considered piece of work, it’s not a blunt propagandistic movie,” he said.
The Turkish government censored at least one scene in the film, showing a Turkish soldier raping an Armenian woman.
“As an artist I can’t condone any cuts on the movie at all. The imagery that it shows is so carefully considered, any attempt to change or delete moments is reprehensible,” Egoyan said.