This is something you don't want to see on opening night of your 16th annual film festival: controversy surrounding your opening night picture. But that's the situation the Newport Beach Film Festival finds itself in with The Water Diviner, which opens the 2015 cinematic extravaganza at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
The picture has so much going for it. The Water Diviner marks Russell Crowe's directorial debut, with the Oscar winner playing an Australian farmer who travels to Istanbul to discover the fate of his son, who was reported missing in action during the devastating 1915 World War I battle of Gallipoli in Turkey.
Who would have a problem with that? Garin Hovannisian and Alec Mouhibian, the co-directors of the new movie 1915, which is about the Armenian genocide that happened in Turkey the night before the Gallipoli landing.
According to an open letter Hovannisian and Mouhibian sent last week to Warner Bros., the Australian movie's American distributor, Crowe is either ignorant, suffering bad luck or being insensitive to “the efficient deportation and slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians and the destruction of their homeland of thousands of years.” (The Turkish government denies this ever happened.)
The overlapping events depicted in 1915 and The Water Diviner happened 100 years ago this week, but Hovannisian and Mouhibian's film opened last Friday in some theaters. They do not mention the Newport Beach Film Festival (NBFF) opening night screening in their letter, only this Friday's theatrical release of The Water Diviner, something they claim is insensitive because April 24 marks the Armenian genocide centennial.
The release date and avoidance of the Armenian genocide in The Water Diviner makes Crowe's film “the highest profile piece of propaganda ever produced in the service of genocide denial,” charge the 1915 directing pair.
Now that they have enlightened Warner Bros. about their beef, if the film is released as scheduled, the Hollywood studio is complicit “in the denial of the worst crime ever imagined, one that has been repeated throughout the world since 1915–and it will be met with the offense and outrage it deserves.”
Crowe has not commented about the controversy since it was first brought up in the winter. Neither his camp, Warner Bros. or the NBFF have commented on the letter, but this post will be updated should any response arrive.
OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.