5th Golden Apricot International Film Festival

Festival report by Denyse Muller, member of the Ecumenical Jury
Yerevan - Golden Apricot International Film Festival - a small festival like a big one! A small festival with a big diversity; a few hundred of people coming from 67 countries and a lot of Armenian young people.
A very interesting program
In competition seventy movies in four sections were screened: International Competition, Armenian Panorama Documentaries and Directors Across Borders. Out of competition the festival presented about hundred films allotted to European Panorama, New Armenian Cinema, some tributes (to Antonioni, Peleshyan, Saroyan) and retrospectives (to Dariush Mehrjui, Wim Wenders, Catherine Breillat), documentaries of the world and Yerevan premiers.
In addition the festival offered daily press conferences, Cinema Days dedicated to different countries: France (on the 14th of July, French national feast) Dutch or Arabic countries, and Master Classes by Wim Wenders and Catherine Breillat.
Five international Juries
Three different juries with five members each care for the International Competition, the Documentary Competition and the Armenian Panorama. For the second time two other juries were invited: the Ecumenical Jury of INTERFILM and SIGNIS and the FIPRESCI Jury of the International Association of Film Critics, three members each, with a program of ten movies already chosen from different sections.
The Ecumenical Jury
The Ecumenical Jury comprised three members: Jos Horemans from Belgium, President of SIGNIS-Europe, Denyse Muller from France, Vice-President of INTERFILM, and Gevorg Saroyan from Armenia, Dean of the Apostolic Armenian Seminary (who was already present last year).
The jury worked under very good conditions and had to see ten feature films selected by the Festival in advance – four films were part of the International  competition (coming from Iran, Russia, Turkey, France) five films were part of the section “Directors Across Borders” (Iran, China, Turkey, the Nederlands, Russia) and one film was part of the Armenian Panorama (USA).
Religion was not the central issue of these movies but gospel values were apparent. All these movies have certain apects in common, focussing on sufferings and loneliness of victims in our world today. Three films are clearly denouncing the lack of human rights (specially for women). The Hidden Faces (Handan Hijekci, Turkey) tells us about a family chief's merciless persecution of his niece who survived a “honour crime” five years ago. He decides to finish his work although the young girl has official protection from the government and although she has changed her identity, her residence and even her looks in order to escape. The Blind Mountain (Yang Li, China) denounces the cases of young girls trapped by men who sell them as wives (and slaves) to countrymen in some mountain villages without communication and so without any hope to escape one day. All this is accomplished against the country laws but with the complicity of the local inhabitants and local authorities. We could not give a prize to this movie because it was already awarded by the Ecumenical Jury in Bratislava 2007. Gitmek: My Marlon and Brando (Hüseyin Karabey, Turkey) shows the fact that human beings are always victims in time of war or conflicts.
Other movies dealt with the themes of sufferings and loneliness of so many victims today in a more poetical or philosophical way. They display different types or categories of victimization: 
- Victims of our civilized world: The End of the Earth (Abolfazy Salfary, Iran) describes the true story of an old man who is surviving on a beach, like Robinson Crusoe. He has chosen this life by deception and despair rather than by an hermit vocation.
- Victims of death and loneliness: The Blue Hour (Eric Nazarian, USA)
- Victims of intolerance, lack of communication, difficulty to be different from others: The Windman (Khuat Akhmetov, Russia) and also The Mermaid (Anna Melikyan, Russia), where the subject is treated with humor.
- We can add the victims of faults and mistakes made by young people in Lady Jane (Robert Guediguian, France).
Well covering the diversity of the feature films in the different competition sections, and talking about man, about his dignity, his suffering but also and especially about his energy for life and his hope, these films offered very appropriate themes for a Christian jury.
Personally, I would like to add some cinematographic discoveries I made among the Out of competition movies, beginning with the film of Georgi Lazarevski Voyages en sol majeur (France 2006). With discretion and tenderness this documentary tells about the director’s journey in Morocco together with his 93 years old grand-father in order to help him to realize the dream of his life. In addition, I would like to mention the movies of Dariush Mehrjui, Iran: The Cow (1972, OCIC  Prize in Berlin), The Cycle (1978, OCIC Prize in Berlin), Hamoon (1990), Santouri ( 2007), fine examples of a poetical, allegorical and involved cinema. Many times, Dariush Mehrjui had problems with Iranian censorship. This year he was President of the International Competition Jury in Yerevan.
A few remarks
All the juries appreciated very much the international program, the quality of the selected movies and the priority given to young directors. Armenian movies or movies made by Armenian directors, and French movies were numerous but also movies from Iran, Russia, Turkey, Georgia... Many of them had already been shown at various festivals around the world coming to Yerevan previously awarded.
The section “Directors Across Borders” with movies not shown in many other festivals before was also appreciated. These movies, coming from Caucasus, Middle East, South or East Europe were witness of open minds towards cultural diversity across political, ethnical or religious borders.
On the last day as closing film out of competition the festival screened Adoration by Atom Egoyan (Ecumenical Prize Cannes 2008), the famous Canadian director of Armenian origin being the President of Golden Apricot IFF.
During the festival, many events allowed us to meet festival members, to taste excellent Armenian food and to enjoy occasions for welcoming and exchange: the daily evening receptions, the receptions in the French, German and Italian Embassy. At an evening at the Paradjanov Museum we discovered the various talents of this Georgian-Armenian filmmaker through his poetic and surrealist work of drawings and handycrafts. During this evening an unexpected prize was given to the French director Patrick Cazals for his movies and his passionate and enthusiastic work of research concerning Paradjanov.
Being always busy during the festival we had the chance to visit the country only afterwards, staying one week together and enjoying for one day the hospitality of  Gevorg Saroyan who guided us to see the north of the country and welcomed us in a very friendly way in the Apostolic Seminary along the Sevan Lake where he is the dean.
During my stay I had the pleasure to contact Rev. René Léonian, President of the Protestant Armenian Church. This young and dynamic church has actually about 30’000 members in Armenia, 40 places for worship (five in Yerevan), a theological seminary since 1997 with about twenty students, men and women. This church is a member of the Armenian Ecumenical and Biblical Society (with Catholic and Apostolic members). Representing minorities both the Catholic Armenian Church and  the Protestant Church struggle for acknowledgement and for being associated better to national and international ecumenical events.
I also had the pleasure to contact Astrig Marandjian, Director of SPFA (Protestant Solidarity France-Armenia) This association is doing a fantastic humanitarian and educative work throughout Armenia. Many groups of young people and adults are involved in cinema. During the summer a team organizes a nomad cinema visiting isolated villages like INTERFILM did in France during the sixties with artistic valuable popular and international films, open to everybody, an initiative which needs encouragement.
To summarize the experience of the Ecumenical Jury, I was deeply impressed by the festival's programme, atmosphere, and offerings, opening promising perspecives for the future commitment of the churches. I wish the festival will continue to grow (but not too much) and will be more known and appreciated around the world, and I hope that the festival will keep its outstanding characteristics: a friendly and welcoming atmosphere and a programme cherishing a cinema of quality and cultural diversity.
Parajanov’s Thaler, Award For Lifetime Achievement: Wim  Wenders
International Feature Competition
Golden Apricot: The Mermaid, by Anna Melikyan (Russia)
Silver  Apricot: Wonderful Town, by Aditya Assarat (Thailand), ex aequo with Lemon Tree, by Eran Riklis  (Israël, Germany, France)
Special Mention: End of the Earth, by Abolfazi Salfary (Iran)
International Documentary Competition
Golden Apricot: Women See Lot of Things, by Meira Asher (The Netherlands)
Silver  Apricot: Lakshmi and Me, by Nishtha Jain (India)
Armenian Panorama Competition
Golden  Apricot: The Blue Hour, by Eric Nazarian (USA 2007)
Silver  Apricot: Gata, by Diana Mkrichyan  (Russia)
Prize: Gitmek: My Marlon and Brando, by Hüseyin Karabey (Turkey 2008)
Ecumenical  Jury
Prize: The Blue Hour, by Eric Nazarian (USA 2007)
Commendation: Gitmek: My Marlon and Brando, by Hüseyin Karabey (Turkey, 2008)