The crowd eagerly gathered in their seats, Friday evening, March 7, to watch films which connected them, but affected them in very different ways. Some were there trying to get in touch with their Armenian heritage, while others were open to listening to any opinion given through the art of film. As the night progressed, the crowd’s comfort level grew, leading to a great discussion after every film.
The 9th Annual Armenian Film Festival was sponsored by the Armenian Studies Program and Armenian Students Organization, and funded by the Diversity Awareness Program of the University Student Union.
The first feature, From Need to Greed, was a short film written by Inga Zarafyan and produced by Manuk Hergnyan of Vem Media Arts in Yerevan. This twenty-minute documentary exposed the audience to the problem of illegal logging and deforestation in Armenia. Educating an audience and bringing awareness to this problem is the first step in helping to restore the forests of Armenia. The film was funded by Armenian Forests NGO, the Armenia Tree Project, and the World Wildlife Fund Caucasus Office. [The Armenia tree project has summer internships open to those interested.]
The next feature, Road Full of Apricots, had a title that immediately captivated the crowd, due to its presumed agricultural nature. To the surprise of some, the film had little to do with apricots. The story followed a young woman as she rekindled her history and found herself in deep appreciation of her cultural identity. Nostalgia filled the screen as the woman traveled from her hardly forgotten past to her ever-changing present. Nigol Bezjian wrote, produced, and directed this thirty-five minute documentary, tied closely to his personal experiences.
The quality of the films seemed to increase as the evening continued. Sacred Difference, a fifteen minute film and class assignment, became an instant hit to the appreciative crowd. Christopher Sheklian, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, assisted by fellow anthropology classmates Rebecca Rabvosky and Burcu Tung, created this film based on his Armenian identity and ties to the Armenian Apostolic Church. Sheklian, the very charismatic director of this film, was a special guest at the Festival, leading the discussion after the screening of his film.
The night of interesting topics and educating films peaked with The People’s Advocate: The Life & Times of Charles Garry. Director, producer, and editor Hrag Yedalian introduced one of the most interesting and influential criminal defense attorneys during the 1960s, who was unknown, for the most part, to the college students in the audience. Born Charles Garabedian, the Fresno-Armenian became the legal defendant of many revolutionary political icons of the Black Panther Party, such as Huey Newton. The hour-long film was the most enlightening of the evening, leaving each audience member stunned and interested in acquiring more knowledge about this captivating figure. During the question and answer period following the film, Yedalian revealed that his decision to select Charles Garry as a subject was because he “wanted to share his story with others” – a decision the majority of the audience was thankful for.
For many students, the presence of Dr. Dickran Kouymjian, Director of the Armenian Studies Program, was one of the reasons to attend. His knowledgeable comments on the films were quickly embraced by the audience, who began commenting back with their own, sometimes, opposing opinions.
Encouraged by his current and former Armenian Studies students, “Dr. K” developed an intellectual standard that was met by the audience. Eagerly, these young adults awaited the end of each film, just to hear what “Dr. K” had to say. Each discussion became a catalyst, enhancing the viewer’s opinion of each film.
The feeling of freedom to express ones analysis filled the room, which I believe is the essence of a successful Film Festival. These evenings are not just about viewing the latest documentary, learning about new topics and developing opinions about them, but also about hearing your neighbor’s thoughts, while expressing your own.
We hope to hear your thoughts next year at the 10th Annual Armenian Film Festival!