At first glance, the latest from heavyweight documentarian Joe Berlinger resembles a behind-the-scenes production diary for another, grander movie. Intent to Destroy unfolds from the shoot of Terry George’s The Promise: an epic wartime romance set during the Armenian genocide of 1915, starring Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale. But Berlinger’s film quickly reveals its intentions as a deeper investigation into the representation of the events The Promise aspires to bring to mainstream cinema screens.
Berlinger lays out one of the most horrific chapters in human history – one which the Turkish government still denies ever happened, despite evidence widely reported at the time. Digging into their unrelenting denial, Berlinger reconstructs suppressed history with the help of historians, scholars and filmmakers. As he does, the film-set breathes witness to the real trauma coursing beneath: an Armenian actress is devastated by the connection to her own family history, a cautious actor reveals books sent to him by the Turkish government to ‘educate’ him on its version of events.
As the artifice of the movie production and the chilling reality of history collide, the questions multiply. What can depiction do to reverse the damage? Is there any one narrative that can do an atrocity like this justice? Can history ever be more than just a set of lies agreed upon? —JF
“Intent to Destroy is a timely reckoning with the large-scale suppression of a historical tragedy.”—Elizabeth Bao, Tribeca Film Festival