Ten Sweet Apricots of Success

in 10th Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival

by Alin Tasciyan

The Golden Apricot International Film Festival (GAIFF) in Yerevan, Armenia will celebrate its 10th edition from July 7 to 14. Founded in 2004, this festival carries the theme of Crossroads of Cultures and Civilizations. GAIFF has achieved the goal that lies in its foundations and has become an international meeting point for filmmakers and cultural industry in a region where neighbouring countries are not exactly on friendly terms.

GAIFF’s contribution to the film industry is another important aspect. An article by David d’Arcy in Screen Daily (25 July 2008) was entitled “The Apricot Revolution”. FIPRESCI has been successfully collaborating with the GAIFF to establish a jury at the festival for a number of years. We tried to list the facets that make GAIFF an international success with the contribution of the Artistic Director of the Festival and a member of FIPRESCI, Susanna Harutyunyan. We ended up with ten achievements in ten year:

1) From the very beginning GAIFF became Armenia’s foremost cultural event. Yerevan is not only the capital of the Republic of Armenia but also is home to the majority of the country’s population. Many Armenians in diaspora come to spend their summer vacations in and around Yerevan, as well. GAIFF provides its audience with a rich film programme. For its 10th edition the festival received more then 1,300 submissions from 94 countries. Screenings are also accompanied by colourful events. Therefore GAIFF creates an intensive cultural atmosphere in the city and country.

2) GAIFF is inarguably one of the best cultural representations of Armenia in the international arena. Armenian cinema was notable also during Soviet times, but it has gained more recognition in the last decade thanks to GAIFF. While the economy was not strong enough to support a film industry the festival attracted attention to Armenian film history and prompted international audiences to develop an interest in Armenian cinema. Through GAIFF some tributes to Armenian cinema have been programmed at different festivals and cities abroad. The most recent example is the GAIFF program in Den Haag, in 2011.

3) GAIFF managed to make exemplary collaborations with other festivals. It has two sister festivals in Asia and Europe: Busan and Rotterdam. It also has partnerships with Tbilisi, Istanbul, Kiev Molodist, Moscow and other international film festivals.

4) GAIFF has become a regional (South Caucasian and neighbouring countries) force not only as a festival but as a production base through the Directors Across Borders program. Initiated by the Golden Apricot Fund for Cinema Development (GAFCD), DAB and its annual Co-Production Forum serves as an important film industry event in the region, providing a platform for regional and international film industry professionals to meet. The previous editions of the DAB Forum attracted more than two hundred participants. Fifteen films (presented at the DAB Forum since 2007 as projects) have already been produced and some others are in post-production. In November 2011, the GAFCD and DAB launched a three-year collaboration with the EU’s Eastern Partnership Culture Program which aims to develop a broader scope and realize different components of seven interconnected networking, capacity development and cultural exchange activities between the Eastern Partnership Region (EaP) countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine) and beyond.

5) GAIFF has strengthened the film industry through its education program. The Golden Apricot Master School of Cinema aims to provide young filmmakers and film students with an opportunity to meet the most prominent filmmakers from all over the world. The Golden Apricot Master School of Cinema functions not only during the festival period, but during the whole year. Workshops have been conducted by Atom Egoyan (Canada), Abbas Kiarostami (Iran), Krzysztof Zanussi (Poland), Jos Stelling (The Netherlands), Roman Balayan (Ukraine) and many others. Golden Apricot masterclasses are presented also at innovative educational centers like TUMO in Yerevan.

6) GAIFF has built a bridge of dialogue between Turkey and Armenia, via the Armenia-Turkey Cinema Platform. Turkey and Armenia do not have diplomatic relationships and the borders between the two countries are closed. Although the administrations of both countries have attempted to end the icy relations, there has not been a concrete development. The atmosphere of mistrust and fear between Turks and Armenians which ripples beyond Armenia and Turkey goes across the entire region. Despite these barriers, in recent years cinema has proven to be a powerful tool for lowering walls, creating social connections and building mutual understanding between Armenia and Turkey.

Established in 2009 by the Golden Apricot Fund for Cinema Development (GAFCD) and Anadolu Kultur in Turkey, the Armenia-Turkey Cinema Platform (ATCP) facilitates co-production between Armenia and Turkey and serves as a working platform for film professionals from both countries. ATCP is dedicated to transnational and multilateral cultural cooperation, exchange, professional training and the sharing of knowledge.

Since then ATCP has brought to life 11 short and documentary film projects, facilitated over 100 inter-state exchange visits, and produced and distributed the first Armenian-Turkish cinema Almanac of five shorts and documentaries made by young Armenian and Turkish film professionals.

7) GAIFF has become a global showcase for filmmakers of Armenian origin. All their films from all the countries they live in are under the same competitive section of the festival, entitled Armenian Panorama. It is also a meeting point of the Armenian diaspora within the film industry and film critics. GAIFF creates an all-Armenian cultural space. A publication of the festival, The Catalogue of Armenian Cinema: 1924-2009 includes a full filmography of Armenian films, published both in Armenian and English.

8) GAIFF closely follows technological innovations. WebApricot, the first online film festival in the region, was launched by the Golden Apricot in cooperation with WebTV (Armenia). It is a new media platform to support the distribution of films and audiovisual media and to promote talent.

9) Golden Apricot is the only film festival with an educational program for young critics in the region: Cinema Journalism Across Borders. This is an ongoing training program conducted by experienced European film critics, namely Peter van Buren, Ronald Rovers, Anton Dolin and others. Young critics from the neighbouring countries gather for this program and exchange their cultural views through films.

10) GAIFF focuses on interesting interdisciplinary activities like this year’s Khatchaturyan tribute. On Aram Khachaturyan’s 110th anniversary, in association with the museum of the honourable composer, the festival has planned an evening dedicated to him. An excursion around the museum and a concert with the participation of a trio named after the respective melodist are planned for the evening. The following films, where the original music is by Khachaturyan, will be screened: Song (Sonata) by Lusine Martirosyan, Othello by Sergey Yutkevich, and Pepo by Hamo Beknazaryan.

In the past GAIFF organized Abbas Kiarostami’s photography exhibition (2005), the Apricot Jazz program (2010), and Book and Cinema (a special film program in frames from when the city was deemed Yerevan World Book Capital 2012 by UNESCO).

Edited by Steven Yates