Review: ‘Intent to Destroy’ Shows That the Armenian Past Is Not Over

November 9, 2017 (released November 9, 2017)
Source: The New York Times

By Ken Jaworowski

An Ottoman train used to deport Armenians, shown in Joe Berlinger’s documentary “Intent to Destroy: Death, Denial & Depiction.” Armenian Genocide Museum Institute/Survival Pictures

A level-headed documentary lies behind the hot-blooded title of “Intent to Destroy: Death, Denial & Depiction.” While there may be no completely dispassionate way to discuss its topic — the Armenian genocide — the film’s balance of emotion and composure helps make its stories even stronger.

Some 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks in the early part of the 20th century. What should be an accepted fact remains a provocative topic, as the Turkish government continues to ignore or deny the events and, as it has for a century, coerce businesses and push other governments to do the same.

Joe Berlinger, the director, uses old footage of survivors and insights from historians to provide an overview of the crimes. He also embeds himself with the cast and crew of “The Promise,” a recent fictional film set around 1915 that explores the fighting and mass killings. Mr. Berlinger’s plan is smart as well as symbolic — evidence shows that the Turkish government has often pressured studios into shelving movies about the genocide.

Discussions on the film set are intertwined with historical analysis, and there are explorations of crowd psychology, revisionism and German cooperation with the Ottoman Turks; it’s no stretch to see how the massacre of Armenians helped lay groundwork for the Holocaust.

At its core, “Intent to Destroy” is a call to remember the victims, both for their sake and for our own. “If you want to understand Yugoslavia, if you want to understand Rwanda, if you want to understand any other mass atrocity [that] is happening today, you should really look into the Armenian genocide,” one scholar says near the end of the documentary. “History is not in the past.”