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Low-Budget Festival Brings Quality Films To Armenia


Armenia - French actress Fanny Ardant (C), Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian and Culture Minister Hasmik Poghosian at the opening ceremony of Golden Apricot international film festival, 10 July, 2011

Armenia - French actress Fanny Ardant (C), Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian and Culture Minister Hasmik Poghosian at the opening ceremony of Golden Apricot international film festival, 10 July, 2011

Coinciding with the year’s apricot ripening time in Armenia, an annual international film festival named after the country’s most famous fruit is again enabling local critics and movie buffs to keep abreast of the latest offerings of world cinema.


The eighth edition of Golden Apricot, held in Yerevan every year since 2004, features some 150 films by directors from 45 countries. The festival’s geography ranges from Russia and Kazakhstan to the United States and Canada, from France and Portugal to China, Thailand and Australia. Armenia’s neighbors Turkey, Iran and Georgia are also represented at Golden Apricot.

Harutiun Khachatrian, a noted Armenian filmmaker who has been at the heart of the festival since day one, has been able to turn his brainchild into what is a relatively star-studded event for the small South Caucasus nation.

Last year the list of international stars honoring the weeklong event included renowned Italian actress Claudia Cardinale. This year’s guest list at Golden Apricot includes Fanny Ardant, a French movie star and director. Two of her works will be screened at the Yerevan festival. Flanked by Armenia’s prime minister and minister of culture, the 62-year-old actress walked the red carpet for the festival’s opening ceremony on Sunday.

At a news conference that preceded the ceremony, Ardant was asked about a widely held belief in Armenia that she has ethnic Armenian roots. “To which extent I am Armenian is the secret of my family,” she replied vaguely, adding that ethnic origin does not matter to her.

Ardant’s reply to Armenian reporters was consonant with the official theme of the latest festival: “Crossroads of Cultures and Civilizations.” Organizers said it is anchored in the idea of “a global human landscape in the process of transformation and the challenges such transformations pose to human beings.”

Film critics and guests have noted that the Yerevan festival, which is presided over by internationally acclaimed Canadian-Armenian director Atom Egoyan, has traditionally attracted some quality films despite its low budgets.

In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Wednesday, Dutch film critic Peter van Bueren gave the thumbs-up to Golden Apricot, saying every year its organizers manage to come up with interesting programs that attract film directors from all over the world. Van Bueren said Golden Apricot is unique because no other film festival in the world with such a low budget manages to do “such a great amount of work, presenting so many nice films to the country’s audience.”


Armenia -- Dutch film critic Peter Van Bueren is interviewed by RFE/RL's Armenian service, 12 July, 2011

“The quality of the international competition is very high. If you compare the [average] quality of this competition’s films with, let’s say, the quality of films at competitions in Eastern Europe or international film festivals elsewhere, you can say with confidence that this film festival is much, much better. There are no bad films here,” he said.

The critic noted that Golden Apricot also screens films that have already won prizes at other festivals. “If the film is good, it shouldn’t be punished for that by not being submitted again for a competition,” he stressed.

As was the case at the previous seven editions of Golden Apricot, this year’s festival is divided into several sections, with the main competition taking place in categories for foreign feature films and documentaries and films of local Armenian production. Prize money for winners in different categories is set at between $2,600 and $5,200.

This year’s novelties include a section called Apricot Pit, which is a short program for young filmmakers offering them “a chance for self-expression and sharing their vision of the future.” This year’s festival also highlights films created in former Soviet republics in a program dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose alliance of a dozen ex-Soviet nations.

Meanwhile, a real cinema splash has been observed in Yerevan during the week of the festival (July 10-17) that began with the show of Certified Copy, a movie by internationally acclaimed Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami.

The Golden Apricot festival admittedly helps keep alive Armenia’s longstanding traditions in cinematography that have been in decline in the post-Soviet period. Local specialists and guests agree that the annual event puts the nation of Sergei Parajanov and other noted Soviet-Armenian filmmakers and actors back on the world’s cinema map and makes it stand out in the region cinema-wise.

But most importantly for many in Armenia, the festival offers a break from the routine set of films and soap operas available on television or Hollywood blockbusters shown in movie theaters. People of all ages, including many young people, keep coming to a limited number of cinema halls in Yerevan, including Moskva Cinema, the festival's main venue. Posters with film announcements and photographs of actors and actresses can be seen everywhere in the city and tickets to some of the popular film shows become a hot sale.

“Unfortunately, there are no more tickets for the films we would like to watch,” one upset young woman told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.

Another young woman, who had just finished watching a movie shown as part of the festival, said such cultural events refine people’s “esthetic taste.” “You watch genuine films and can understand what cinematography is. There has been no cinema in Armenia since the collapse of the Soviet Union,” she said.

Tickets to all film shows cost 500 drams (about $1.3), with screenings at certain venues also available for free due to sponsors.

Khachatrian, the festival director, said he attaches great importance to the popularization of cinema-going in Armenia, but regrets that the country has only a limited number of venues for screening films. “We bring these films with great difficulty and demonstrate them only once, because we have no movie theaters. This is a great luxury,” he said.
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