Written by Jesse Herwitz
Opening night for the 15th Annual Arpa International Film Festival began last Thursday with the premiere of Gor Kirakosian’s ‘Lost & Found in Armenia.’ With over 800 members in attendance, filling both Rigler and Spielberg Theater’s to capacity, it was nothing short of spectacular. The crowd roared with applause when the film ended and hardly a person had left until the final reel of credits had been shown. The Q & A segment following was just as exciting.
“I am very proud and happy to be here!” declared one man, a sentiment shared by many in attendance.
“It’s about the people,” said Festival Director Alex Kalognomos
Gradually the auditorium dissipated and the crow reconvened for the reception in the courtyard of the Egyptian Theatre, a courtyard just feet away from the heart of Hollywood. Among the pouring of the champagne glasses and flashing camera bulbs and red carpets were the normal “Hi, how are you’s” and “What do you do’s”. But far more revealing of the character of this festival were the “Ah, I was there when that happened” or “Our family is from there and still lives there.” Although Arpa was a gathering of stories being told on the big screen it seemed that it was in the courtyard where most, if not all, of the stories were continued and further explored.
And what a way to explore them.
One of the oldest in the world, Armenia is a country rich in storytelling. Early ones include that of Mount Ararat, the place where it is said that Noah’s Ark landed and stories of King Tiridates III who in 301 AD made Armenia the first Christian country in the world. Later ones tell of the horrific Armenian Genocide of World War I and other bloody conflicts. Many stories also come from outside the borders as a great number of the Armenian population, some estimates have it at over two-thirds, live in diaspora.
Films like Nicolas Tackian’s ‘Azad’ (winner of this year’s Best Feature Film Award) about a contemporary young man of Armenian descent living in France, Cassiana Der Haroutiounian, Cesar Gananian and Gary Gananian’s ‘Armenian Rhapsody’, a fascinating collection of raw interviews that revolve around the wedding of a young South-American couple who have chosen to marry in their parents’ native land, and Sophiah Koikas’ ‘Disappearing Bakersfield’, about a pole-dancing woman caught in the vortex of a town called Disappearing Bakersfield, are among the many films that explore themes from the outside looking in.
Films like Armin T. Wegner Humanitarian Award recipient Lusine Sahakyan’s ‘Hamshen at Crossroads of Past and Present’, a fascinating documentary about the Armenians of Hamshen who were “forcibly Islamicized” by the Ottoman Empire, Hagop Goudsouzian’s ‘Armenian Minstrels’ about the traditional folk music and its preservation through the conservatory, Sayat-Nova, named after the popular 18th century minstrel, and Natalya Belyauskene’s ‘If Only Everyone’, (Armenia’s Official Submission to the Foreign Language Category at the 85th Academy Awards) which stars Michael Poghosian (Arpa’s Artist of the Year) as a war-torn veteran who agrees to escort the daughter of a fallen comrade to the place where her father has died, are among the many films that look from the inside out.
But of the many stories told, it was the willingness of the audience to tell the history of the country and its descendants that seems to be the most important theme of the festival.
“Did you know the war they were discussing in the film?” asked a woman I met in the courtyard. She was referring to ‘If Only Everyone’.
“No,” I said.
“Ah,” she said, “Let me tell you. It is about when…”
And as she retold the history and all of its nuances the courtyard gradually began to empty. When we were ready to part ways she said, “If you need any more information, please email me.”
“Thank you,” I said.
I took one last look around the courtyard, now nearly empty. No more flashing cameras or casual schmoozing. All that was left were the stories, told by older generation and remembered by this one, stories that remained fresh in my mind as I turned and walked toward Hollywood Boulevard and headed home.
For those not familiar with Armenian culture or cinema it was a great celebration of both.
For more information please visit www.affma.org