By Gayane Abrahamyan
On July 12th the Yerevan summer heated up with the sweet-fruit scent of the Golden Apricot International Film Festival. In a manner unlike many such festivals, the Armenian variant opened with a blessing of its symbol – the apricot (this season thankfully plentiful).
The odor of incense and apricots and the gentle mystic sounds of the mass embraced the participants in the Church of St. Zoravor.
Church blessed apricots were the symbol for the biggest film festival in Armenian history
“Here I found warmness I hadn’t felt at any other festival, the peculiarity of this festival is the manifestation of the national spirit and it is also the guarantee of its continuation,” said Dutch director Jos Stelling.
From the blessing, the opening ceremonies took place at the National Academic Theater for Opera and Ballet. An 18-member duduk ensemble led by Gevorg Dabaghyan played “Krunk” (The Crane), accompanying a slide-show of Atom Egoyan’s “Ararat”.
Then accompanied by Anush and Inga Arshakyan’s “Tamzara” folk song and Armenian dance the blessed apricot was served to the guests in the hall. Many pop singers appeared with the soundtracks of Armenian films. Singers Nune Yesayan and Artur Ispiryan hosted the opening, and spoke only in English, until shouts of protest demanded that they also speak in Armenian.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Vartan Oskanian read a greeting from President Robert Kocharyan, calling cinema “an opportunity for mutual understanding and comprehension, for peace between different civilizations, countries and nations.”
After a red-carpet reception on Charles Aznavour Square, guests saw this year’s first film (of 140, from 45 countries that would be shown though the week-long festival), “Mariam”.
The $300,000 film, written and directed by Edgar Baghdasaryan, stars Iranian-Armenian actress Janet Hovhannisyan and is about a teacher of the deaf and her mystical illusions and loneliness. It also represents the first use of computer special effects to be employed in an Armenia-produced film.
The leader of Armenian cinematography, Baghdasaryan is the only Armenian director whose documentary “The Country of Holy Rites” gathered full halls at the Moscow Cinema two years ago for several days, in times when Armenian films are not screened for public usually.
“In all of my films I try to answer one question: who am I, why have I been born? In ‘Mariam’ I tried to find answer to one question – whether man needs man today, can a man relate right to a man? The more civilized the world becomes the lonelier and isolated the man becomes – introvert and unhappy,” the director said.
The ending of the film remains mystic, for the director believes the audience should become a co-author while watching the film and should see the ending of the film in the hall.
Owing to the Golden Apricot Film Festival Yerevan hosts also Canadian Armenian director Egoyan and his wife, actress Arsine Khanjian.
“I am proud to head the juries of the festival, this is a true feast and everyone should take part in it; the festival takes place especially owing to the dialogue with the audience,” Egoyan said.
Egoyan praised the festival organization and said it is comparable in quality to other such international events.
“This year truly world cinematographers have arrived in Yerevan – Abbas Quiarostami, famous Dutch film director Jos Stelling, Nikita Mikhalkov; this is really an achievement,” says Egoyan.
Egoyan opened the second annual international film festival
In a short exclusive interview to ArmeniaNow (before he agreed to give his first press conference in 35 years) Quiarostami mentioned he is quite acquainted wiht Armenian culture.
“I have many Armenian friends in Iran and different countries of the world. Last year my son was in Armenia and I was so interested from what he told that I came this year despite my schedule,” said Quiarostomi.
This year’s Golden Apricot included a retrospect show of Quiarostami’s films, which the director called a big honor for him.
“Of course not all of my films will be shown but those selected will give the Armenian audience an opportunity to be familiar with my art,” said Quiarostami.
Quiarostami said he enjoyed “Mariam”, and that Baghdasaryan had a “very original approach”.
The honored director said he came to Armenia with great interest to see how in this newly born state in hard conditions films are created and even a festival exists.
If last year, during the first Golden Apricot, locals and foreign guests were tolerantly closing eyes on some shortcomings, this year improvements are noticeable.
“Both the opening ceremony, and the number and quality of presented films . . . this is a big step forward for one year that speaks of the possibilities this festival has,” says Peter van Buren (The Netherlands), president of the fiction films juries last year.
The head of the documentaries juries Ruben Gevorgyants believes the two-year-old festival has started “walking”: “This is the toddler that just starts walking, but is firm, walks for the sake of Armenia and will soon tell the whole world about our country.”
The best films of the festival will be announced during final ceremonies on July 17.