Exceeded Expectations: Between Occident and Orient

in 10th Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival

by Marc Hairapetian

Nothing is sadder than when you have great expectations and they are bitterly disappointed. In the other case nothing is more magic than when your expectations are exceeded, like with my invitation as Fipresci jury member for this year’s 10th anniversary of the Golden Apricot — Yerevan International Film Festival. For me, it was not ‘just’ an honorable cineaste’s job; it was also the discovery of the home country of my father, which he also never visited. Maybe you will ask: How is this possible? Armenia in its original size was so big, just like the Federal Republic of Germany is now. After the Turkish Genocide of the Armenian people in 1915-1918, Armenians were going to the Diaspora to live in other countries all over the world. My father Ardavas (1940-2006) was born in Täbriz, Iran and later he lived in Teheran. In the swinging sixties he came to Germany as a student and later married my mother Mago. As one of the founders of the Armenian Society in Frankfurt am Main, he was a close friend of the world famous composer Aram Chatschaturjan. Suffice to say that he taught me a lot about Armenian history and culture — and also to love cinema! It was always our dream to visit the independent Armenian Republic — which has existed since 1991 — and now this dream has come true for me.

From the first moment I entered Yerevan I instantly felt ‘at home’. Everybody was friendly and open — the legendary Armenian hospitality made everything easy for me. As my jury colleague György Kárpáti was writing in his introduction to the Golden Apricot — (the) “Yerevan International Film Festival was brighter than ever”. I can say honestly, and not just with ‘half Armenian eyes’, that this 10th anniversary was of a high standard — so that we can compare it with ‘A’ class International Film Festivals like Cannes, Venice or Berlin, the city where I have lived since September 1989. Most of the invited directors, actors, producers, jury members and other guests were staying in the 5-Star Royal Tulip Grand Hotel close to the Main Festival Cinema, Moscow. We all lived there like kings. It was the center and the heart of the Festival with many events, press cocktails, conferences and interviews; like the ones I did with Armenian-French actor and director Serge Avedikian (who brought to Golden Apricot his wonderful new film about genius director Paradzanov), Armenian-Canadian director and Festival Honorary Chairman Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter, Ararat) or Hungarian director and President of the Main Jury István Szabó (Mephisto, Colonel Redl).

The quality of the film program and competition was also superb. There was only one problem during the first few days: Sometimes the screenings in the wonderful and stylish Cinema Moscow were a little dark, especially the film classic Mephisto (1981) directed by István Szabó, but very quickly the festival found a solution for it. With my FIPRESCI jury members Anna Erznkyan and György Kárpáti, I could see many good films from different countries like Armenia, Russia, Austria or Turkey; but as we say in Germany “The best is coming always in the end” – the Iranian Film The Last Winter directed by Salem Salavati overwhelmed us in its storytelling and the artistic use of Digital video. So it was easy for us to make a decision when choosing the award winner.

To talk about my personal impressions, this trip to Armenia and the Golden Apricot had new highlights every day for me: It really was like a fairy tale to meet the most famous Armenian of all time — the singer, actor and honorary guest Charles Aznavour — for an exclusive interview in his own (!) Charles Aznavour Museum on a hill where you have an amazing view of the Armenian capital Yerevan! Despite his 89 years Charles is still clear in his mind and was a very charming interview partner. I will also never forget the concert in the House Museum of Aram Chatschaturjan: I had tears of joy in my eyes when I listened to the melodies of the ballet music “Spartacus” or “Gayaneh” which were played on a Piano, Violin and Cello Trio. In the end the director and pianist Armine Grigoryan asked me send a picture of Aram Khatchaturian and my father to hang it in the museum! It was wonderful to have excursions to Sardarapat where the Armenian army once stopped the Turkish attack; Lake Sevan where István Szabó and I both felt that God was around us; and Etschmiadzin where I had a nice conversation with the Catholics, the religious leader of the first Christian nation: Armenia (301 AD). It was one of the most touching moments in my life when the audience was applauding at the Award Ceremony in the Yerevan Opera House in memory of my father Ardavas. My personal speech and of course also the motivation to give the FIPRESCI award to The Last Winter were also shown on Armenian TV.

The Film Festival Gala Dinners should not be compared with any Gala Dinner in Germany – and I am invited often in Berlin. Every night in Yerevan we were entering another place of extraordinary beauty between Occident and Orient: Among the Dinners we — charismatic Golden Apricot Festival General Director Harutyun Khachatryan, Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl, US director Godfrey Reggio, jury colleagues, the pretty girls of Yerevan and I — were all dancing together in an Armenian or Georgian style to Live Music. The lust for life is virulent in Armenia even if this country also has its problems with their politics, just like everywhere, and there is a discrepancy between rich and poor people — but these poor people give all they have to accommodate the guests and this is maybe the biggest gift you can make to a stranger that feels ‘at home’ in Armenia! Thanks a lot for the invitation, Golden Apricot! “Yes kesi shat kesirem, Voske Tsiran! Yes kesi shat kesirem, Hayastan! (I love you, Golden Apricot! I love you, Armenia!)”

Edited by Steven Yates