They sat there, 18 students, for hours at each meeting, at times watching films that were produced 50 years before the birth of some in the audience. The films came from different time periods, different cultures, each having a different theme. Many were fantastic, a few were not, and a couple simply seemed to make no sense. Such was the experience of those who enrolled in this semester’s Armenian Studies 120T-Armenian Film class.
My introductory words may be a bit misleading since all who enrolled in the Armenian film class thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The course was taught by Dr. Dickran Kouymjian, who has taught this class several times at Fresno State. The enrolled students made up a diverse class, ranging in ages from 18 to 80, each with a varied knowledge of Armenian culture and a varied exposure to film appreciation.
The class met for three weekends: February 28 & March 1, March 7 & 8, and March 14 & 15; the Friday sessions met from 4pm until 10pm, and the Saturday sessions met from 9am until 5pm.
Like other classes taught by Professor Kouymjian, the Armenian film class pushed its students to think in new ways. The students viewed films from each decade, beginning with “Auction of Souls” (1919), and ending with the current decade. One of the most beneficial aspects of the Armenian film class was the way in which the films viewed related to current social topics such as racism, the looming war in Iraq, socio-economic problems, and women’s rights. Of course, the students also viewed a number of films that dealt with Armenian-related topics such as the Genocide. Compelling topics such as these made the hours pass quickly. The students not only enjoyed the films, but also learned much from them.
Throughout the three-weekend class, there was no consistent genre of films viewed. Due to the lack of widespread involvement of Armenians within the film industry in the United States, and the lack of films made in Soviet Armenia without a redundant pro-communist message, the class was exposed to films produced in Armenia, France, and the United States. Though the films viewed were written and produced in very different cultures and times, the one commonality was that all films viewed involved Armenians, either as the subject matter (e.g. “Color of Pomegranates”), as the director (e.g. Rouben Mamoulian), or as the lead actor (e.g. Eric Bogosian). Interspersed between each film was an open forum, which often led to a discussion of culture and various interpretations of the film shown.
Each person in the class had his or her favorite film… some of the favorites included Rouben Mamoulian’s “Love Me Tonight” and Atom Egoyan’s “Next of Kin.”
When asked about what she learned upon completion of the three-weekend course, freshman Cara Samuelian said that she now viewed films in a different way. Samuelian says she has a fonder appreciation for film, and says that she will now give more attention to the art involved in the making of films.
Freshman Alex Bunch, a pre-med major, said that his favorite portion of the class was the time spent viewing documentaries on Armenian issues. “As an Armenian, I am always interested in the history of my people… and having Armenian documentaries in an Armenian film class only makes sense to me,” Bunch said.
Many of the documentaries viewed in this film class deviated from the usual Armenian topic of Genocide and destruction; such topics included the state of mass media in the Armenian republic, a look at the widespread violence during the battle over the Nagorno-Karabakh region during the 1990’s, and the healthcare sector in Armenia.
The highlight of the Armenian film class this semester was the 4th Annual Armenian Film Festival, which coincided with the third weekend of the film class. Taking place on March 14, the film festival gave the students an opportunity to utilize their newly acquired knowledge in judging the best of the films shown. After two weekends of exposure to Armenian films, the class was able to gather with others who appreciate Armenian films and put their newly learned skills to the test.
Armenian Film was a particularly enjoyable class, which allowed people from different backgrounds to gather together and view films that spanned 80 years of history. This distinct time period saw the rise of communism, the rise of post-modernism, and the fall of the Soviet Union. The volatile time period in which these films were created produced many fine films filled with themes capable of transcending both time and culture. Those who attended the class not only learned much about film, but also much about culture-making this class very worthwhile.