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‘Rosewater’ lands prime awards season release date ‘No Turkish actor would play Dink’

ISTANBUL, Aug 1, (Agencies): An award-winning Turkish-German director, Fatih Akin, says he dropped plans to make a film about an Armenian journalist murdered in 2007 because no Turkish actor wanted to play the lead role in a movie about the hugely sensitive case. In an interview with Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, Akin said he instead turned to making another controversial film, “The Cut”, which deals with the mass killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Those slaying are seen in Armenia and several other countries — but not by Turkey — as a genocide.

Akin said he had finished a script based on the murdered Armenian journalist Hrant Dink — who worked for Agos — but he had to drop the project after the Turkish actors he approached for the role found it “too harsh”. Dink, 52, had campaigned for reconciliation between Turks and Armenians, but incurred the wrath of Turkish nationalists for saying the 1915 massacre amounted to a genocide. He was shot dead in broad daylight by a teenage ultranationalist outside the offices of the Agos newspaper in a crime that still has not been fully elucidated.

Akin’s difficulties in making a film about his life and death underline the continued sensitivity of the case. “I couldn’t persuade any Turkish actors to play Hrant’s role. All of them found the script too harsh. That’s why I had to cancel the project,” he said, without naming the actors. “I did not want any actor to get hurt. But it was important to make a ‘Turkish film’ about Hrant. An American or French actor could not play Hrant. We have to deal with this issue ourselves. “But obviously the time is not yet ripe for it.”

Following Akin’s comments, two popular young Turkish actors took to Twitter to lament that they had missed the chance to star as Dink. “If I were old enough, I would have wanted to play Dink,” wrote Riza Kocaoglu, who stars in the popular Turkish drama series “Karadayi”. “I wish I could play Dink,” tweeted Sarp Akkaya, who most recently starred in “Magnificent Century”, another hit Turkish television show. Armenians say up to 1.5 million people were killed during World War I as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart, a claim supported by several other countries but long disputed by Turkey.

Akin said Turkey was now ready, however, for a film like “The Cut”, which tells the story of an Armenian man who survives the 1915 killings and embarks on a journey across the world to find his daughter. “For those who are afraid of this film, I tell them: ‘This is just a film’. But I am now sure that Turkish society, of which I am a member, is ready for this film,” he said. “The Cut”, starring French actor Tahar Rahim, will premiere at Italy’s Venice International Film Festival in late August.

Co-produced by Germany, France, Italy, Russia, Poland, Canada and Turkey, the film is the latest part of the director’s Love, Death, and the Devil trilogy, which includes the arthouse hits “Head-On” and “The Edge of Heaven”.

Dink’s assassination sent shockwaves through Turkey and grew into a wider scandal with accusations of a state conspiracy. A 17-year-old dropout was found guilty of the murder but the Dink family have always insisted that higher forces were involved. Turkey’s top court however ruled earlier this month that the investigation into the killing of Dink had been flawed, paving the way for potential further trials against new suspects. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in April expressed his condolences over the World War I massacres of Armenians, which he called “our shared pain”, in Turkey’s most significant gesture yet over the tragedy.


LOS ANGELES: Open Road Films will release Jon Stewart’s directorial debut, “Rosewater,” in select theaters on Nov 7. The film is based on the New York Times bestselling memoir “Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival,” written by BBC journalist Maziar Bahari. A true story, the film marks the screenwriting and directorial debut of “The Daily Show” host and anchor Jon Stewart, and stars Gael Garcia Bernal, who leads an international cast. “Rosewater” was produced by Scott Rudin, Stewart and Gigi Pritzker, with Lila Yacoub, Eli Bush and Chris McShane serving as executive producers.

“Rosewater” follows the Tehran-born Bahari, a 42-year-old broadcast journalist with Canadian citizenship living in London. In June 2009, Bahari returned to Iran to interview Mir-Hossein Moussavi, who was the prime challenger to controversial incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As Moussavi’s supporters rose up to protest Ahmadinejad’s victory declaration hours before the polls closed on election day, Bahari endured great personal risk by submitting camera footage of the unfolding street riots to the BBC. Bahari was soon arrested by Revolutionary Guard police, led by a man identifying himself only as “Rosewater,” who proceeded to torture and interrogate the journalist over the next 118 days.

In October 2009, with Bahari’s wife leading an international campaign from London to have her husband freed, and Western media outlets, including “The Daily Show,” continuing to keep the story alive, Iranian authorities released Bahari on $300,000 bail and the promise he would act as a spy for the government.

“Rosewater” has a direct connection to Stewart, who since taking over as host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” in 1999, has turned the nightly half-hour into a satirical look at newsmakers. Stewart and” The Daily Show” covered Bahari’s saga nightly and he had the journalist appear on the show (photo above) to talk about his ordeal once he was released from prison. 

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