12th Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival

Armenia, July 12 - July 19 2015

The jury

Stephen Locke (Germany), Elena Dulgheru (Romania), Siranush Galstyan (Armenia)

Awarded films

The Golden Apricot takes place in the surprisingly vibrant and modern city of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. Despite the heat, the streets are filled with pedestrians and wildly honking car drivers – but so, too, are the festival cinemas crowded with young, enthusiastic film fans, who come to see the selection of some 200 films from 50 countries, chosen from over 1600 films submitted to the festival from 105 countries.

As Artistic Director Susanna Harutyunyan relates, the idea for the festival first evolved at the 2003 Karlovy Vary Film Festival when she was head of the FIPRESCI Jury and the renowned Armenian documentarist Harutyun Khachatryan, accompanied by his screenwriter and sound designer Mikayel Stamboltsyan, were there with the film “Documentarist”. Their film won an award, but they were challenged by a remark stating that Armenian cinema would remain unknown if nothing would be done to publicise it. So the three of them got together and in 2004 founded the Association of Armenian Filmmakers and the Golden Apricot film festival. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenian cinema had been in state of disarray and in a financial crisis, so the idea was to bring Armenian filmmakers together with film people from the worldwide Armenian Diaspora to revive the Armenian film industry. The three founders are still in charge of festival.

This year’s honoured guests were Nastassja Kinski and Ornella Muti, with a small retrospective of their films. The festival opened with the film “Don’t Tell Me the Boy Was Mad” (“Une histoire de fou”) by French-Armenian director Robert Guédiguian, who was also President of this year’s competition jury. The international feature film competition included regional works, but also films from such countries as Korea, Argentina, Guatemala and Switzerland. The Golden Apricot, the festival’s top prize, went to “Embrace of the Serpent”, Ciro Guerro’s black-and-white drama about the effects of modern civilization on Indio tribes in the Colombian Amazon region. Separate juries gave prizes in the categories documentary films, short films and works in the Armenian Panorama. The FIPRESCI Jury and the Ecumenical Jury awarded works from countries in the general region of Armenia, mostly shown in the section Films Across Borders, with both prizes going to the Armenian-French-Russian co-production “Moskvich, My Love” (“Moskvich, Im Ser”) by Armenian director Aram Shahbuzyan.

In the competition programme, Marc Brummund’s “Sanctuary” (“Freistatt”), a gritty portrait of a rebellious boy in a German foster home in 1968, was awarded the festival’s Audience Prize. In the section German New Cinema the festival screened other recent German films by Andreas Dresen, Burhan Qurbani, Dominik Graf and others. The French New Cinema section featured six films, including Benoît Jacquot’s “Diary of a Chambermaid” starring Léa Seydoux and Vincent Lindon.

The festival could not of course ignore the centenary of the Armenian genocide. Guédiguian’s opening film reflects on the tragedy from the perspective of Armenian terrorists in the 1970s and 80s who aimed to attract worldwide attention to the genocide. In “Ararat” (2002) Armenian-Canadian director Atom Egoyan, Honorary Chairman of the festival, uses the history of the Armenian artist Arshile Gorky to reflect on the tragedy. These and other films, including Songül Özbakir’s documentary portrait of the German theologian and pro-Armenian activist Johannes Lepsius “Homo politicus” (Turkey 2014), were brought together under the heading “We Exist”. However, under the title “Never Again”, the festival deliberately expanded this perspective to include films about other modern genocides, such as Alain Renais’ “Night and Fog” about Nazi concentration camps, Joshua Oppenheimer’s award-winning documentaries “The Act of Killing” and “The Look of Silence” set in Indonesia or Patricio Guzman’s “The Pearl Button” about the indigenous peoples of Patagonia. (Stephen Locke)

Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival: www.gaiff.am