SFJFF37 is honored to present this year’s Freedom of Expression Award to Joe Berlinger, Jewish-American filmmaker and fervent believer in the documentary form as an instrument of change.
Intent to Destroy
Joe Berlinger, USA, 2017, 115 minutes, English
“Who speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” were the chilling words spoken by Adolf Hitler as the Nazis began planning the extermination of Europe’s Jewish population. Yet to search this quote online reveals countless websites claiming either that Hitler never spoke these words or that the Armenian genocide itself never occurred. One hundred years after 1.5 million Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Empire, Academy Award–nominated documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Metallica: Some Kind of Monster; Paradise Lost; Under African Skies, SFJFF 2012) uncovers the profoundly bitter truth behind modern Turkey’s campaign of denial and intimidation. The authoritarian regime of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan spends millions on propaganda denying the Armenian genocide, an event that calls into question the legitimacy of modern Turkey’s very existence. In 2015, Berlinger was granted access to observe the making of the $100 million Hollywood epic, The Promise, a dramatic retelling of the Armenian killing fields directed by Terry George (Hotel Rwanda). Intercut with this emotional behind-the-scenes footage, Berlinger maps out a comprehensive chronicle of the Armenian mass murder; the first time that 20th century technology was used in this manner. The documentary also exposes the shameful complicity of the United States in the Armenian genocide denial. As early as the mid-1930s, Turkish pressure caused the cancelation of an MGM film portraying a heroic episode of Armenian resistance, a historical injustice corrected in George’s The Promise. The late Elie Wiesel often called Turkey’s ongoing denial of the Armenian extermination as a double killing, the final stage of genocide. Vital and necessary, Intent to Destroy aims to overturn this equation. —Thomas Logoreci
Joe Berlinger will appear in person to accept the award. His new film Intent to Destroy will be screened and followed by an onstage interview with Carrie Lozano, Director, IDA Enterprise Documentary Fund.
Joe Berlinger’s work has been at the forefront of documentary filmmaking for over a generation, from the seminal Brother’s Keeper (1992) to his landmark behind the scenes rock-doc Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004), Under African Skies (SFJFF 2012) and the powerful Crude (2009) about Chevron’s wanton destruction of the Amazon rainforest. He has imbued all his documentary work with a compelling narrative drive often reserved for fiction storytelling, contributing to his singular style.
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