An Open Letter to Film Critics about The Promise

Dear film critics,

Since its release on April 21st, much has been written and commented about the major motion picture, The Promise. Articles describing the making of the film and its importance have been well documented and favorable, however my disappointment and reason for this open letter concerns several of your reviews on the film.

Lets start with Internet Movie Database (IMDB) even though these are non-film critic reviews. I believe they set the tone for the rest of my letter. Realizing this type of forum, IMDB has increasingly become an untrusted source for real reviews due to fraudulent ratings and reviews movies printed BEFORE an actual release date. The Promise proved to be a victim of the same tactics. Internet trolls and several Turkish message boards flooded IMDB with poor reviews and 1 start ratings weeks before the film was release. This widely known issue has been covered by CBS News,  The Sydney Morning Herald, and many others.

Moving on to more reputable news sources, let me address the Associated Press which said:

“…But despite the best of intentions, the film fails to properly explain and contextualize both what led to that disgraceful episode, which Turkey to this day denies, and why it escalated as it did”.

I take issue with this comment as I disagree that The Promise failed to portray the atrocities. As a matter of fact, it hits all of the points and still provides the cinematic flare of several major motion pictures depicting similar atrocities to humankind. This movie gives the viewer enough information to provide a picture of what occurred during the Genocide  – without the gore and violence we are accustomed at the movies. It doesn’t need to show every gory detail of the reality our grandparents faced over a hundred years ago.

If you are expecting a type of monologue at the beginning – rent a documentary about the Armenian Genocide, as there are many  well produced films available. I would recommend watching The Armenian Genocide (produced by Andrew Goldberg) or Orphans of the Genocide (produced by Bared Maronian). However, The Promise was created for specific reasons and big monetary returns was not one of them. It contains an important message and anyone that saw the film understood that.

Several of you have also indicated that you understand the importance of the Armenian Genocide and that it is a subject everyone should be made aware of while giving it a thumbs down of approval. This approach seems counterproductive.  Do you think providing negative feedback about such an important topic sheds light on the Armenian Genocide or are you just encouraging people to stay away?

This is the first time that a major motion picture depicting the Armenian Genocide received major funding ($100 million), A-List actors, wide distribution (2000+ screens in the USA) and a massive brand awareness. But yet, your answer is to say that it wasn’t “good enough” and therefore this is supposed to encourage viewers not to watch the film.

In my opinion, The Promise receives high marks in several areas which are expressed in the film:

  • It is well documented that there were Turks that helped Armenians escape the Genocide. This was artistically portrayed in the film.
  • Armenians fought, when they could during the massacres. Providing the retaliation at Musa Dagh was documented in a German novel called The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (1933). This battle was attempted to be made into a motion picture, but due to the pressures of the Turkish government – it was never accomplished.
  • Talaat Pasha was portrayed as the monster that he was, the mastermind behind the plans to exterminate the Armenians.
  • The death marches, the mass killings, the slaughter of innocent women and children.
  • The main characters in the filmed suffered major losses, but as any Armenian has said before – we survived.
  • Even the ending credits recaps with actual historic photos and detailed information about the Genocide.
  • Director Terry George was purposeful when putting this film together by striking a balance between what our culture (audience) expects out of a movie and to provide historical depictions to give the viewer a chance to understand the atrocities the Armenians went through solely because of the hatred the The Ottoman Empire had for our people.

I suspect that as film critics, you were expecting Shlinder’s List or perhaps Judgement in Nuremberg. In some ways, that would be great, but the big difference is that the underlined stories did not have to educate an audience. The Jewish Holocaust is widely accepted by not only the United Stated but Germany. The Armenians have not been afforded such a designation to date.  How do you tell a complex story about the Armenian Genocide to the masses that sadly know little about the Armenian Genocide?

The Washington Post can not even refer to the massacres as Genocide, instead says “what the film presents as the murder of 1.5 million Armenians…” I guess being that close to the nations capital has rubbed off on continuing to deny that the massacres were a Genocide.

Luckily, not all of your colleagues shared your negativity, such as:

  • Cinemascore, an industry leader gave the film an A- compared to Beauty and the Beat which has been out in theaters for several weeks got an A.
  • The New York Times seems to have gotten it right as well as Empire.
  • PluggedIn understands the historical significance of such a film.
  • RogerEbert.com said it was a great film and compared it to Dr. Zhivago.

Despite your attempts to give this film a bad review, I hope the world sees past them and goes to the movie anyway. As one friend recently told me: “Whenever I read a bad review, I go out of my way more so to see the film because I know they got it wrong”.

Sincerely,

Ara Topouzian

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The Promise – Detroit Premiere

In many ways, this is a difficult blog for me to put together. So many thoughts and directions I want to take and talk about surrounding the major motion picture, The Promise especially as today marks the 102nd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

Mark and I outside of the theater prior to our first performance.

For me, the voyage of participating in the Detroit premiere began when I spoke to my friend Cory Jacobson, the owner of Phoenix Theatres Laurel Park Place. I asked if he would be interested in showing The Promise at one of his several theaters in Michigan. He was immediately interested (he knew of the movie) and within a few days he was able to confirm the screening of the movie. His theater was one of the first movie theaters to actually announce and provide showtimes in metro Detroit.

Cory wanted to make this “a community event” for several reasons. He is a great entrepreneur that understands providing value to his customers. He also has a personal connection to the Armenian community where he grew up in Wisconsin. Therefore he asked if I would play some music before one of the showtimes. I was honored and happily accepted. Asking my good friend Mark Gavoor, from Chicago, to come to play along side me on oud – we were both excited to provide some ambiance for the audience before the film began.

Upon announcing that there would be music before the 8pm screening of The Promise to the public – the showtime sold out within three days. We added another showtime for us to play music and that quickly sold out as well. It seems we could have played several of these showtimes to help fill the seats. The response from the Armenian community was amazing. As a matter of fact, the theater did a brisk business all weekend long for this movie. I even donated my CDs to patrons that bought tickets for the Sunday showtimes.

Phoenix Theatre owner Cory Jacobson welcoming the crowd before The Promise.

Also through Cory’s efforts, some great publicity was achieved including two articles in local newspapers: The Observer Eccentric and Detroit Free Press. This certainly helped spark the sold out showtimes.

Sold out showtime at Phoenix Theatres Laurel Park Place on April 21st.

Too be honest, playing music for such an event was more of an honor than I expected. I have played many different types of events over the years, but this one was different.  Having the the opportunity to see the film the night before solidified how I would feel the next day playing music. The film – completely mesmerized me. Immediately I felt the obligation to perform music to help promote this film so that its reach would be far and wide. Even the type of music we would perform changed overnight. As I mentioned in my welcoming remarks (see the video below), the music that I mainly perform can be classified as mainly upbeat. Not all of it certainly, but good portion of it. I didn’t feel that what we should play should draw away from what the audience was about to witness and felt that that we should honor the film by performing classical and folk Armenian songs which was more of a somber mood.

Cory with some of the guests waiting in line to see The Promise.

It was my understanding that at the end of each showtime, the audiences could wiping away tears and some applauding for the exceptional work that was accomplished in this production. A production that I learned was close to 40 years in the making as Clark Gable was originally slated for this story. It took one man – Kirk Kerkorian, an Armenian philanthropist, to give his own money ($100 million) to see his dream come to reality. Sadly, he passed before the film was released, but he has secured his place in history for brining such a film to the general masses.

The Phoenix Theatre was the 29th top grossing movie theaters in the country (out of 2,200+) due to the ticket sales of The Promise on premiere night of April 21st. In Michigan — they were the #1 theater. Please see the film before it leaves the theaters. If you are interested in watching this at the Phoenix Theatre, check out this dedicated web page they created at: phoenixmovies.net/the-promise

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Creative Class: Bruce Giffin

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Photo by Kristina Sikora

Being painfully self taught after 30 years of beating my head against the wall, I stopped long enough in 2011 to receive a Kresge Artist Fellowship for a project called “The Face Of Detroit”. I am humbled beyond words and if anything, it has motivated me to beat my head a little harder. I’m not yet good enough…

I have made a living for the past 30 years as a freelance photographer, and when I’m done for the day with that, I go into the city and attempt to feed my heart for no pay. This is a pretty good definition for “happiness”!

What inspires you to create?
I think photography saved my life. I had as sales job in the 70’s and 80’s and my life was miserable. Since I walked away and started to work as a photographer, I don’t have bad days…
I tell young people that to make it as a freelancer, you have to despise the work you were doing enough to NEVER go back. I create new work, or I have to go back to sales, which I will never do…

Can you describe your greatest creative achievement?
I suppose that would have to be my project ”The Face Of Detroit”. It was a photo project featuring street people I randomly bumped into on the street! In all, there were about 150 subjects about 1/3 to 1/2 homeless. I was awarded a Kresge Artist Fellowship in 2011 for it and it continues to be my most requested work for exhibitions!

What advice would you give to the next generation of creative people?
Minor white said it takes 20 years to become a good photographer. I agree although 18 or 19 years ago I didn’t believe that was true. I think the biggest failing of young photographers is using tricks and schemes and gimmicks instead of just shooting good pictures. I don’t think there is a shortcut to doing quality work. Shooting an excess of pictures in a short time won’t get you there in a shorter period of time. You have to put the time in and do the work. I don’t think there are any shortcuts…

What one word would you use to describe yourself or the work you do?

Real

I think if you trick people into noticing your work, they will not trust you when they find out you’re using tricks instead of technique…

 

slide1_fotoris a series of profiles of creative people throughout the world that I have either shared the stage with or have observed their talents from a far. The questions are my own and their answers are unaltered.

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Creative Class: Michael Zadoorian

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Michael Zadoorian is the author of two novels, THE LEISURE SEEKER (William Morrow) and SECOND HAND (W.W. Norton) and a story collection, THE LOST TIKI PALACES OF DETROIT (Wayne State University Press). A motion picture of THE LEISURE SEEKER starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland is scheduled to be released in 2017. Zadoorian is a recipient of a Kresge Artist Fellowship in the Literary Arts, the Columbia University Anahid Literary Award, the Michigan Notable Book award, the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award and was long-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. His work has appeared in The Literary Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, American Short Fiction, Witness, Great Lakes Review, North American Review and the anthologies Bob Seger’s House, On The Clock, and Detroit Noir.

What inspires you to create? A lot of things inspire me to write. Often I just notice things out in the world, the light a certain way, phrases that people speak, moments that move me in some way. So I write them down. (You always think you’re going to remember, but you never do, so write them down.) Then I just copy all them down into a big document. (Which, after decades of doing this, is now hundreds of pages long.) Later, when I’m trying to come up with a story or a book idea, I go to my notebook file. There’s always something there that sparks an idea. Detroit also continues to inspire me. I’ve lived here all my life and it took me a long time to realize that was a gift. It’s important to know who you are and where you live. Good or bad, Detroit is a huge part of who I am as a person and a writer. I like writing with a strong sense of place and Detroit has it.

Can you describe your greatest creative achievement?

Not really sure what that is. My first answer wants to be the first time that I finished a full-length novel. It’s a hard thing to do and a lot of writers whom I admire never manage to do that. It’s difficult. That said, I’m very proud of my published books. It makes me feel good to know that I never wrote anything thinking, “This is sure to sell!” I’ve always written what I wanted to write. That’s very important to me. Rest assured that has backfired on me a few times. I still have finished novels that I haven’t gotten out into the world. I’m not sure why, but I do know that no matter what happens to them, they were books that I wanted to write and they were important to me. A friend of mine once said, “When you write a novel, you find out what your obsessions are.” I couldn’t agree more.

What advice would you give to the next generation of creative people? 

Nothing revolutionary, I’m afraid. Do your work. Nothing is going to happen unless you do your work. Keep trying. Put in the hours. That’s the only way to get better. Also, it’s not going to be easy. Develop a thick skin. There’s going to be a lot of rejection. A lot. See if there’s anything to be learned from it or just ignore it, but just keep doing your work and trying to get better. You have to keep doing it and need to keep doing it. Do it for yourself and no one else. You can try to please people and that will get you only so far. And it will probably just screw you up in the long run. Ultimately, you need to please yourself first and foremost. Whatever you’re making, make it your way and let everyone catch up with you.

What one word would you use to describe yourself or the work you do?

About the only word that feels appropriate is: persistent. Though I would love to be, I am not some brilliant writer who believed that he was destined for greatness as a child. I’m a guy from Detroit just worked and kept working. (That’s sort of what we do here.) And I also tried to create circumstances that allowed me to do so. Even when everyone was telling me no, and rejecting my work, I just kept doing it, no matter how much it hurt. (They’re still telling me no, by the way. It never ends.) I didn’t quit. I’m still not particularly satisfied with where I’m at, but I’m not expecting it to get easier. I still have to be persistent.

For more information about Michael, CLICK HERE.

slide1_fotoris a series of profiles of creative people throughout the world that I have either shared the stage with or have observed their talents from a far. The questions are my own and their answers are unaltered.

 

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Creative Class: Sarah Nesbitt

snSarah Nesbitt was born in Syracuse, New York and has a MFA in Photography at Pennsylvania State University and a BFA in Photography and Drawing at the State University of New York at Oswego. Her interests lie in studying how history is used and perceived, in conjunction with investigating the importance of people’s actions and behaviors towards that information acquired to them.

Nesbitt’s work have been featured in publications such as the French Magazine Levure Litteraire, the third edition of The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes (Cengage Learning Press), Photographer’s Forum, Detroit Metro Times and INSIGHT 7 Magazine. She has had recent group exhibitions that included jurors such as Jennifer Blessing, Curator of Photography at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (2012); Christopher James, Author of The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes (2012) and Louis Grachos, Director of Albright-Knox Gallery (2005). Her work is in the collection of the Pennsylvania State University Library in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection; Deborah Stanley, President of the State University of New York at Oswego, Graham Sullivan, Director of the School of Visual Arts at Pennsylvania State University, and Charles Garoian, Professor of Art and Art Education at Pennsylvania State University. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Photography and Art History at Marygrove College in Detroit.

 

What inspires you to create?
Researching history, reading about it and discussing it motivates me to create work about it. I also teach 20th and 21st Century Art History and World Art History at Marygrove College, so I spend a lot of time talking about people, events and the construction of history itself (historiography). I also reading a lot about history, listen to podcasts such as Radiolab, This American Life, and going to talks relating to historiography, storytelling and current trends in science.

Can you describe your greatest creative achievement?
That’s a really good question, and a hard one to answer, I think it might have been the time I realized I wanted to be a photographer. I’ve been in notable exhibitions (in Argentina, UAE, Royal Scottish Academy, South Korea and NY State Museum) that I am very proud of, but I’d like to give credit to the time when I realized that photography was the medium for me to explore, fall in love with and still get giddy about. It was from an visual art retrospective of Carrie Mae Weems’ work that I saw when I was 14 years old and the way she used photography allowed me to see photographs that weren’t created to show pretty pictures of landscapes and people, but to carry a message and tell someone else’s story from a empathetic point of view.

What advice would you give to the next generation of creative people?

Find your community and an inspiring place to create your work. You don’t have to live in NYC, Chicago or Los Angeles to be an artist, although they are great places to exhibit your work and to visit, but you don’t have to struggle to live there. What matters is being able to find an ideal place to be inspired and in an environment that supports you as an artist (emotionally, financially, etc.). For example, Sally Mann lives in the middle of the country, away from people, still makes work and is a very well-known successful photographer, and you have Chuck Close who lives in a couple of places in the NYC area who’s also a well-known, successful artist. Success itself is defined by you, it’s all about living a fulfilled life that makes sense to you.

What one word would you use to describe yourself or the work you do?
maybe….Curious. I love learning and experiencing new things….

To learn more about Sarah, CLICK HERE.

slide1_fotoris a series of profiles of creative people throughout the world that I have either shared the stage with or have observed their talents from a far. The questions are my own and their answers are unaltered.

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Creative Class: Kathleen Pfeiffer

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Kathleen Pfeiffer is an essayist, memoirist and literary critic living in Rochester Hills,
Michigan.

Kathy was raised in Trumbull, Connecticut.  She earned her B.A. from Emmanuel College, and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Brandeis University.  Kathy taught writing at Yale University from 1990 to 1997, and she was the Writing Tutor and Resident Fellow of Morse College at Yale for two of those years.  She is currently Professor of English at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.  Kathy was named Kresge Fellow in the Literary Arts in 2012 for her creative nonfiction writing.

What inspires you to create?

Author Henry James talks about “the germ of an idea” that’s at the launch of each writing project, and for me this germ always infects me when I’m least expecting it. I just finished an essay that began when an opening line came to me completely intact (the line was “He only hit me that one time,” although after much revision, it now lives in the middle of the piece). Sometimes I have an “aha” moment in the middle of teaching a class, when I notice a scene or a line in the literature I’m discussing, which makes a completely unexpected connection to my own life. I’ve had some pieces grow unexpectedly out of writing prompts or creative writing workshop assignments. For most writers, the compulsion to tell stories provides constant inspiration. “Once upon a time” walks with us everywhere.

Can you describe your greatest creative achievement?

I’m extremely proud of the creative nonfiction and memoir essays that I’ve completed and sent out into the world, and am ever hopeful that they’ll find a home and an audience. But for me, one of the most inspiring and unexpected achievements is my collaboration with Ali Woerner and Thayer Jonutz at Take Root Dance. I first worked with Ali and Thayer for my Art X Detroit performance in 2013 in which they danced my stories. We’ve collaborated a few times since then. I learn so much about language and storytelling by witnessing the evolution of a dance, since choreography is a nonverbal language all its own. Writing is so lonely, but dance is always social and interactive – I love watching them work, and we always bring out the best in each others’ creative selves.

What advice would you give to the next generation of creative people? 

I would encourage younger creative to develop a disciplined practice that keeps their vision at its core. Discipline is especially important now because we live in a world with so many distractions. I’ve noticed in myself how easily my train of thought can be interrupted – just as I’ve noticed how much more and better I write when I work uninterrupted. The single best book I’ve read about this topic is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

What one word would you use to describe yourself or the work you do?

Writer


Learn more about Kathy and her writings by CLICKING HERE.

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is a series of profiles of creative people throughout the world that I have either shared the stage with or have observed their talents from a far. The questions are my own and their answers are unaltered.

 

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Arts Advocacy Month – Support the creativity in Michigan

As many of you know, I am a proud Board member of Creative Many Michigan (CMM) and our mission is very straightforward:

Creative Many is a statewide organization that develops creative people, creative places and the creative economy for a competitive Michigan through research, advocacy, professional practice and communications.

unnamedI am always invigorated after attending one of our CMM board meetings because not only do I get to listen and experience the good work we do, but I get to experience with other passionate members of the Board that bring a variety of experience and commentary to the table. We are one voice when it comes to the arts community and moreover, the creative sector which thrives in Michigan. I would venture to say that many of you do not realize the economic impact the creative industries has in Michigan. How it effects our workforce and how so much more work is needed.

Let me share a couple of facts with you from our 2016 Creative Industries Report (an update from a prior report which includes data from 2011-2014) which can be read in its entirety by downloading here.

  • Creative industries employed 88, 761 people in Michigan, an increase of 1.49%.
  • $4.97 billion in wages is responsible for the creative industries.

high-res_header_realThe arts matter to me and should matter to you, everywhere in the United States. This is an industry which produces serious wages, employment and can be a major force to bring talent to Michigan. When you think of creativity – some may think it only involves, music, painting and writing. Creative people are not confined to these (albeit important aspects of art), but include architects, engineers, design (fashion, automotive), and technology. They are entrepreneurs, they are major corporations that can utilize their talent and equipment to not only design a vehicle part, but something within the textile industry.

I am usually not political in my social media postings or blogs, but as a musician and as one that is passionate about keeping our arts alive — I need help spread the great work that occurs within out community.

Creative Many can use your help by signing a petition that would go to your legislators so your voice can be heard and your support can be given. For more information, please CLICK HERE.

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