Eric Esrailian elected to Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Board of Trustees
Dr. Eric Esrailian smiles outward in black and white. Esrailian, an executive board member of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, has been appointed to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Board of Trustees. (Courtesy of John Russo)
By Breanna Diaz
July 23, 2022 1:09 p.m.
This post was updated July 24 at 9:34 p.m.
For Dr. Eric Esrailian, film has the promise to both entertain and educate.
Esrailian, executive board member of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, joined the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures as one of three new members of the Board of Trustees on July 1. The board is one branch of the museum’s governing body and includes film executives, actors and other leaders in the film industry. Esrailian, a doctor of digestive diseases and Emmy-nominated film producer, said his work producing “The Promise” stood out to the leaders of the museum for its depiction of the Armenian genocide and social advocacy campaign.
“They (The Academy Museum) expressed an interest in social impact entertainment and the potential impact that filmmaking can have on social issues,” Esrailian said. “My experience with ‘The Promise’ … resonated with them. That was the most visible project.”
Set against the backdrop of the fall of the Ottoman Empire preceding the Armenian genocide, “The Promise” tells the story of a love triangle between a medical student, a journalist and an Armenian woman. While the film is a fictionalized account of events, Esrailian said he also produced a documentary titled “Intent to Destroy: Death, Denial & Depiction,” which reveals in-depth details of the genocide.
A long history of suppressed information about the Armenian genocide encouraged Esrailian to launch a social impact campaign to accompany the release of “The Promise,” he said. To raise awareness and push for the United States to formally recognize the genocide, Esrailian said the filmmakers recruited actors such as George Clooney to promote the film because of their human rights activism work. He added that the campaign also partnered with multiple nonprofits and human rights institutes, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
“My great-grandparents were Armenian genocide survivors, and my parents were immigrants and refugees,” Esrailian said. “The odds of me being alive are so infinitesimally small that I always felt – and feel – a responsibility to do something with my life.”
Esrailian said proceeds from the film went to charitable efforts, including the creation of UCLA’s first human rights institute, the Promise Institute for Human Rights, and the Promise Armenian Institute. When developing “The Promise” with director Terry George, Esrailian said the filmmakers wanted it to be both educational and entertaining. He added that the intention was for educators to use “The Promise” in schools to teach kids about the Armenian genocide.
George said as he and Esrailian worked together to develop the story, Esrailian lent both his knowledge of Armenian culture and Hollywood connections to secure producers and cast members. It was more important to Esrailian and George that the film became a fixed representation of the Armenian genocide so that it could educate future audiences rather than break box office records, George said.
“The whole notion of social impact film and television making is central to what Eric and I believe in,” George said. “That’s at the core of the Academy as well. The museum is there to preserve those events.”
When Esrailian approached producer Mike Medavoy to make “The Promise,” Medavoy said a film about that topic had never been done before. Medavoy, who co-produced the film, said he and Esrailian both recognize how films can impact an audience. By making films on important topics such as the Armenian genocide, people like Esrailian can create social change, he said.
No matter the field he pursued, Esrailian said he always felt compelled to help others in his career. While he is able to do so as a physician, Esrailian’s firm belief in the power of entertainment to spark social change on a larger scale urged him to enter the film industry. “The Promise” is one of many films advocating for social issues, he said, but visual media remains a powerful tool for capturing people’s attention when it comes to advocacy.
“It’s (Film is) one way that we can share the stories and give a voice to the voiceless,” Esrailian said. “Storytelling taps into so many different emotions that we all need to experience at times so that we can understand the importance of not allowing things like this to happen again.”
In his new role, Esrailian said he hopes to build a relationship between the Academy Museum and UCLA. By bridging the museum to the UCLA community, he said the institutes can collaborate on work amplifying social impact. Working alongside film industry professionals, Esrailian said he wants to connect those contacts with the School of Theater, Film and Television to benefit students, faculty and alumni.
“Those images that we see on screen can inspire people to want to go and learn more,” Esrailian said. “If I can have any influence in helping guide the museum in that direction, … that’s my interest in storytelling, anyway.”