The commemoration of a little known, unprecedented act of generosity by an Ottoman sultan to the Irish people during the great Irish Famine, a devastating wave of hunger which saw approximately 1 million people starve to death in the mid-19th century.
Having announced in January that he was planning to make a film, “Famine,” based on the true story, filmmaker Ömer Sarıkaya told Today’s Zaman on Wednesday that he has high hopes the film will be in the running for an Oscar. Indeed the star-studded cast that the Holland-based project director has assembled intimates that this may well not be beyond the realms of possibility.
With filming expected to begin in December, Irish film director Mark Mahon has been confirmed as the figure to steer the story to the big screen with Polat Yılmaz and Paul Dwyer of the Turkey-based AVN Film Production set to preside over the production of the film.
Eighteen-year old actress Saoirse Ronan, who rose to international prominence in 2007 following her award-winning role in the film “Atonement,” is set to play the role of Mary, an Irish girl whose life changes when she meets Fatih, a young Turkish sailor sent over by Sultan Abdülmecid with the aid relief for sufferers of the famine. Fatih will be played by Colin Farrell, renowned for his roles in films such as “Alexander,” “Miami Vice” and “S.W.A.T.”
“Initially we were considering propositioning Leonardo DiCaprio for the role of Fatih, but then we decided he wouldn’t be suitable for it -- there can’t be a second ‘Titanic’ for DiCaprio,” Sarıkaya told Today’s Zaman.
Meanwhile the character of Sultan Abdülmecid, Sarıkaya hopes will be played by Turkish actor İmirzalıoğlu. “For Kenan this would be a great opportunity because he is a huge star in Turkey but not so well-known elsewhere -- this would be his Hollywood moment,” Sarıkaya said, adding that in his opinion the 37-year-old actor also bears a not far off resemblance to the late Ottoman ruler.
Although yet to be confirmed, the AVN Film Production company is currently in talks with actor Petekkaya, famous in Turkey for his role as the domineering Ali Kaptan in the popular TV series “Öyle Bir Geçer Zaman Ki” (As Time Goes By) to take on the role of the captain of the ship.
A heartwarming tale which Sarıkaya estimates that 99 percent of Turks and Irish people know nothing about, the legend tells that at a time when the Irish found themselves largely forsaken by the rest of the world, the Ottoman ruler of the time, Sultan Abdülmecid, decided to send not only monetary aid to the far-off island but also three ships carrying provisions and food supplies. A commemorative plaque, which reads simply, “The Great Irish Famine of 1847 -- In remembrance and recognition of the generosity of the People of Turkey towards the People of Ireland,” remains intact to this day in the scenic port town of Drogheda, where the ships supposedly docked.
“This is a unique project with a message of hope, peace and kindness,” Sarıkaya said, continuing, “We want to remind the world that world peace is something that can be achieved by working, talking and uniting with your neighbors, no matter how far away they are.”
With the film budget currently set at around 50 million euros, Sarıkaya told Today’s Zaman that a number of big sponsors in Turkey and a couple in Ireland are supporting the project, but kept the identities of the beneficiaries under wraps.
Sarıkaya, who has met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay as part of his promotion efforts for the film over the past three weeks, is set to liaise with the Irish President Michael Higgins next Tuesday.
Auditions for around 25 speaking roles and 200-300 extras are set to take place in August with the hope that the filming process, which is set to begin in winter, will take no more than 18 months.
Yet with Irish-English sensitivities still not altogether harmonious, the Turkish filmmaker was keen to emphasize that the focus of the film is not on the Irish-English divide but on the unlikely union between Turkey and Ireland, two countries separated by 4,000 miles. “We don’t want to be sensational or to stir up trouble, we just want to commemorate an incredible act of kindness,” he said.