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12th Annual Armenian Film Festival Features Directors from France, Lebanon, and Armenia

Evelyn Demirchian
Staff Writer

ASO members with Prof. Barlow Der Mugrdechian Photo: Erica Magarian
ASO members with Prof. Barlow Der Mugrdechian
Photo: Erica Magarian

There was a buzz in the air and the anticipation mounted as more than 180 people filled the Industrial Technology Building auditorium for the 12th Annual Armenian Film Festival held on Friday, March 5. The Festival showcased a variety of short films submitted by Armenian filmmakers.

The Armenian Film Festival is an exciting event held by the Armenian Studies Program and Armenian Students Organization with funding this year from the Kooyumjian Family Foundation.

The films that were screened displayed the incredible talent of Armenian filmmakers from around the world, from the United States to France. The stories told ranged from humorous stories, to heartbreaking tales, in a variety of styles, from animation to documentary form.

“A Nice Old-Fashioned Romance” (2010) by Los Angeles-based director Ara Soudjian, told the story of Aram, a fifth grader unwittingly caught in the middle of a love story between his stern teacher and the school’s aloof principal. Constantly blamed for the mischievous deeds of his angelic-faced cousin Arak, young Aram is sent to Principal Derringer’s office on a regular basis. One day, salacious poems about the teacher and principal start appearing on Ms. Daffney’s blackboard and Aram is again sent to the principal’s office. Mr. Derringer, instead of punishing Aram, tries to find out from the young boy if the young teacher really does have feelings for him. A sweet tale, one never does see what pans out between the young adults and all that one find is that Ms. Daffney leaves the school after the spring. The short film is based on a story by William Saroyan, from his book My Name is Aram (1940).

A more sobering film came from director Vatche Boulghourjian of Lebanon. “The Fifth Column” (2010) presented the story of young Hrag and his father, who live in a poor neighborhood of Beirut. Hrag’s mother has passed away, and his father has lost his job at a shoe repair shop. Instead of going to school, Hrag is seen running through the streets of Beirut. Hrag, cognizant of his father’s spiraling desperation and possible suicidal tendencies, steals his father’s gun before running out of their apartment.

Hrag visits the shoe repair shop and begs for his father’s job back, but it is to no avail. He receives free medicine from a family friend at the pharmacy, and an offer to tutor her children. Hrag visits his grandmother, suffering from dementia, who at first doesn’t realize her daughter, Hrag’s mother, has passed away. Hrag’s father at the same time is running through the city trying to find his son, learning of the fights young Hrag has been in with the local schoolboys. The film ends with a letter Hrag wrote to his father, telling him he knows his father’s been planning on sending him to an orphanage, yet he isn’t an orphan. Hrag reveals that he knows his father is suicidal. A beautiful, but very restrained film, “The Fifth Column” took a more in-depth look at the unfortunate circumstances that impacted an impoverished life.

Switching from fiction to reality, the only documentary featured in the festival this year was “Mt. Ararat Expedition” (2010), directed by Hacob Khodaverdian, followed a group of Armenian men, the Ararat 11, as they climbed Mount Ararat in July 2010. A “dream of a lifetime,” the men were led by a local Kurdish guide and persevered through a difficult climb as they reached the summit over the course of three days. A mostly lighthearted documentary, the group of men shared stories and sang songs as they traveled up the ever-steeper mountain and braved the cold winds to proudly fly the flags of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabagh.

The only animated feature, “Chienne d’Histoire” [Barking Island] (2010) comes from French director, Serge Avedikian. The animated short, based on true events, depicts the streets of Constantinople, overrun by stray dogs that are becoming a nuisance to the government. The new government, led by the Young Turks, develops an idea to get rid of their canine problem by sending the stray dogs to a deserted island to die. In a sad image, the dogs on the island bark the nights away and attempt escape when a European ship passes by, but unfortunately there is no hope for salvation.

Finally, one of the more anticipated films of the festival was “Akhtamar” (2009) a joint British and Armenian venture by the Shammasian Brothers. A simple tale with many layers, “Akhtamar” focuses on a particular day in the life of an elderly taxi driver in Yerevan. We see him at breakfast, looking out into the Yerevan landscape, getting coffee at a café, and driving his cab through the city streets. He picks up a young man from Moscow, just arrived in Yerevan, and sets off.

The taxi-driver senses that the quiet young Muscovite is troubled, and learns that he is on his way to meet his Armenian girlfriend. The driver pulls to one side and recounts the legend of Akhtamar, about the Armenian girl Tamar who lived on an island in Lake Van. After telling the story, the taxi-driver drops the young man off, continues to the lake and pulls out a photograph of his Tamar, his love. Standing beside his cab, the film ends with the driver staring out into the dark night of the lake.

The films presented this year at the Armenian Film Festival showcase the immense artistry and spirit of Armenian filmmakers.

Akhtamar (2009) (United Kingdom/Armenia),
Directors: The Shammasian Brothers
Charents: In Search of My Armenian Poet (2009) (South Africa), Director: Shareen Anderson
Chienne d’Histoire [Barking Island] (2010) (France),
Director: Serge Avedikian
Fifth Column (2010) (Lebanon/USA),
Director: Vatche Boulghourjian
Ici-Bas [Down Here] (2010) (Belgium/France),
Director: Comes Chahbazian
Mt. Ararat Expedition (2010) (USA), Director: Hacob Khodaverdian
Nice Old-Fashioned Romance (2010) (USA), Director: Ara Soudjian
Our Qashatagh (2007) (Armenia), Director: Gor Baghdasaryan
The Third Rider (2008) (Armenia), Director: Gor Baghdasaryan

Thanks to Armen Toumajian, Film Curator of the AFFMA-Arpa Foundation for Film, Music and Art (Los Angeles) for his assistance in organizing the 12th Annual Armenian Film Festival.