The Armenian government plans to renationalize the country’s largest and oldest film studio due to the failure of its Armenian-American owners to revive film production there with large-scale investments promised by them.
The government moved to regain control over the moribund Armenfilm studio earlier this month, exactly ten years after it was sold to CS Media, a company co-owned at the time by U.S.-Armenian philanthropist Gerard Cafesjian and his business partner in Armenia, Bagrat Sargsian. CS Media paid about $800,000 for the Soviet-era studio and pledged to invest roughly $70 million in it over the next decade.
The money was supposed to be mainly spent on refurbishing Armenfilm’s rundown facilities and providing it with state-of-the-art filmmaking equipment.
However, the new owners have since done little apart from renaming Armenfilm CS Film Studios and digitizing hundreds of its old films. The studio has not produced any new movies since its privatization.
Cafesjian sold most of his business assets in Armenia years after Armenfilm’s acquisition. He died in 2013 at the age of 88. Sargsian, for his part, relocated to the United States shortly before Cafesjian’s death.
The studio’s executive director, Khachatur Sokolokian, refused on Friday to discuss its current state and future. “I can’t comment at this point,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Ruben Gevorgiants, an Armenian filmmaker who used to head the studio’s governing board, said the new owners seemed serious about breathing a new life into Armenfilm when they acquired it. “I thought they are going to produce films there,” he said. “But they then realized that there is no market for those films.”
Gevorgiants said the Armenian government officials have discussed the issue with Cafesjian’s daughter and main heir, Kathleen Cafesjian Baradaran. In his words, she does not object to the studio’s renationalization.
Baradaran took over as head of the Cafesjian Family Foundation, a Minnesota-based charity founded by her father, after his death. She visited Yerevan and met with President Serzh Sarkisian in October last year. A statement on the meeting released by Sarkisian’s office made no mention of Armenfilm.
Baradaran was reported to tell Sarkisian that the Cafesjian Foundation will carry on with its cultural projects in Armenia. The charity runs a museum of contemporary art in Yerevan. Most of its artifacts were donated by Gerard Cafesjian.