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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

The Promise

by writer/director Terry George

There are moments in existence that not only change your life but also remain imbedded in your memory. One such event happened to me back in 2003. I was in Rwanda doing research for a story that would eventually become the film Hotel Rwanda—though at that time I had little more than a script and the money to pay for my daughter and I to visit the country and listen to people’s stories of the terrible events that had happened nine years before, when almost a million people were slaughtered in 100 days.

Friends took us to a place call Murambi, which had been a technical college, set high up among the lush hills of that beautiful country. Inside the classrooms of the college lay the mummified bodies of hundreds of Tutsi men, women and children who had fled to the college hoping for protection, and were instead stabbed, slashed and shot to death. In an attempt to hide the evidence, their bodies had been dumped into mass graves. Later, investigators dug up the bodies and covered them in lime to preserve them as evidence. The bodies are spread out in the very classrooms they died in—white mummified corpses of tiny babies besides mothers in shapes that look as though they are reaching out for their children. My daughter and I were in tears. These long-dead victims almost seem to be screaming out in the silence. There is a guest book at the entrance to this memorial, and even though I had no budget, no actors, or anything that could indicate that I might make a film, I wrote, “I promise to tell their story.” I almost instantly regretted having written the words because it was a promise I knew I couldn’t walk away from. Those very words drove me to make Hotel Rwanda.

Those same words drove me to visit a monument high on a hill overlooking the city of Yerevan in Armenia. There, a flame burns and a hymn plays in memory of some one million Armenians, slaughtered just as the Tutsi Rwandans had been slaughtered. The words of the promise I wrote in the book in Murambi echoed in my head again as I set out to make a film called The Promise. The Promise is an epic romance set against the backdrop of the story of what happened to the Armenians in 1915, and it too needed to be told. Along with Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, the producers, and the entire cast and crew, I realized we could create a memorial to the dead Armenians in story and music, and in light and shadow, and spread their story around the world to whatever audiences we could reach.

So please, go see The Promise, and while you watch the story of the Armenians who lived and died in 1915, think also of the children of Murambi, Auschwitz and the killing fields of Cambodia. Think also of those who today, a century after the Armenian Genocide, are dealing with similar atrocities. And perhaps when you leave the cinemas, you will join us in the never-ending fight to stop Genocide across the globe.


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