Documentary on ‘The Forty Days of Musa Dagh’ & Hollywood

Posted by Lilly Torosyan in Armenian Weekly

Franz Werfel’s 1933 novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, portrayed one small Armenian community’s efforts to resist deportation and massacre during the genocide. The novel was highly controversial—having been banned by Nazi Germany and Turkey—and several attempts to produce a Hollywood film were blocked. The documentary Epic Denied: Depriving ‘The Forty Days of Musa Dagh’depicts the trials and tribulations of Hollywood’s multiple attempts to produce a film based on Werfel’s bestseller, which, according to Variety magazine, has become “the most on-again and off-again motion picture production in Hollywood history.”

Posted by Lilly Torosyan in Armenian Weekly

Franz Werfel’s 1933 novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, portrayed one small Armenian community’s efforts to resist deportation and massacre during the genocide. The novel was highly controversial—having been banned by Nazi Germany and Turkey—and several attempts to produce a Hollywood film were blocked. The documentary Epic Denied: Depriving ‘The Forty Days of Musa Dagh’depicts the trials and tribulations of Hollywood’s multiple attempts to produce a film based on Werfel’s bestseller, which, according to Variety magazine, has become “the most on-again and off-again motion picture production in Hollywood history.”

'Epic Denied' will explore the fate of the Musa Dagh epic in Hollywood. The documentary, however, has yet to be completed. In order to finance the project, the producers have launched an online fundraising campaign. One of the producers/filmmakers, Edwin Avaness, spoke with the Weekly about the importance of this feature-length documentary making its way to the public.

The objective

“Our goal is to give audiences a unique look at the controversy surrounding the novel, and the unprecedented political maneuverings by foreign forces to halt the production of the motion picture,” explained Avaness. He also noted the key themes that will be explored, including conspiracy, complicity, collusion, and blatant censorship in the context of Hollywood’s history, and infringement of the First Amendment by a foreign power.

“After reading the book, we saw the importance of the content and decided to option the rights and make a documentary,” he said. The project is thoroughly documented based on research in the MGM archives, the U.S. State Department, the Franz Werfel Papers at the UCLA Special Collections Library, the American Film Institute, and interviews of personalities involved in the film project. The “basic components of historical research are covered in a manner that finally unveils the truth of a film denied,” Avaness said.

“Organizers and activists know the power of the media and how a good documentary motivates audiences into action. That is why we also plan to invite civil liberties organizations to use [our documentary] as a tool of engagement, and to promote the importance of free expression in media,” Avaness told the Weekly.

Future Hollywood production?

Prominent directors and actors such as Elia Kazan, Rouben Mamoulian, and Sylvester Stallone throughout the decades have attempted to produce the film based on Werfel’s novel. Avaness describes how Dore Schary, the successor to MGM Studio boss Louis B. Mayer, believed that The Forty Days of Musa Dagh was one of the few great books written since War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, and dreamed of making the movie.

In 1934, MGM purchased the rights to make the novel into a motion picture. “Undertaken by veteran producer Irving Thalberg in the 1930’s to unknown millionaire John Kurkjian in the 1980’s, the project faced enormous foreign intervention and blackmail, preventing it from reaching the silver screen,” he explained.

Avaness noted that today’s Hollywood is not the same as it was in the 1930’s. “Therefore, the question becomes how profitable an epic film based on Franz Werfel’s novel will be?”

Next step

Research and development of the documentary have already been completed. “Our next phase is interviewing individuals in the entertainment industry who were involved in various capacities through the many incarnations of the project, as well as scholars who have the expertise to shed light on this untold story,” Avaness detailed.

He stressed that The Forty Days of Musa Dagh is “an important part of the Motion Picture history. We need everyone’s help to document it.”

To make a tax-deductible donation to “Epic Denied:‘The Forty Days of Musa Dagh,’” visit www.indiegogo.com/EpicDenied.

For more information about the project, visit www.epicdenied.com.

Related article by keghart.com Editorial: Open Letter to Steven Spielberg

3 comments
  1. Promising Movie Plot

    We ought to update our trends. Today's world prefers novelty, hybrid cars, faster communication tools, etc. To pursue  something that is considered a "failed" objective by many is meaningless. We  must opt for films, such as about the war in Artsakh, and/or from novels comparable to books on which movies such as "Schindler's List" were based. In other words, movies more in line with contemporary trends and which might thrill an audience.

    I "suggest" that we assign a professional to write a movie script of  Jack Hashian's "Mamigon" novel. Hashian is
    American-Armenian. I reversed the descriptive from Armenian-American because he was a State Department official and his novel is easily adaptable to local likes, mores, expectations.

    "Mamigon" begins in Western Armenia and ends in Boston. It's a thriller which talks about the mass killings and  deportation of 1915 before moving to the U.S. I suggest our compatriots read it. "Mamigon" has a plot which would make a popular contemporary movie.

    I am not saying we shouldn't try to produce another "Forty Days of Musa Dagh". There was such a film, but it was not very successful.

    1. “Mamigon” Addendum

      I have read somewhere that the script of this thriller has already been written by Bill Hoversten Davis and that Jack Hashian might have also written under another name–Trevanian.

      It would be a very good idea, as I have repeatedly insisted, to make this film coincide with the 100th anniversary of the  Genocide of Armenians. "Verchabess" (Finally), there is proof that my 'suggestions', or at least this one, has been acted  upon, although by a non-Armenian.

      Further, in the comments section, Garen Yegparian, a journalist, who comments on AW, had twisted my name and typed it as Zaytag Paladian, as someone who recommends filming of same.

  2. Some comments about the 40 Days

    1. I hope the film does not make the factual mistake of saying that the original English edition of the book was censored because of its length. This is not true.  Huge sections of the English language edition were cut out because Turkey put pressure on the publisher. 

    2. Mamigon is a good book in general but the ending is horrible. The Armenian hero marries a Turk.  This is nauseating.

    3.  There are plenty of good stories about Armenian defense stands besides Musa Dagh.

    4. I think that even at this late date the US State Department should apologize for helping Turkey to stop the film from being made in the 1930's.  Why can't there be a House/Senate resolution to this effect?

Comments are closed.

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