Faith and cultural identity are at the heart of Armenian film festival

Report by Kristine Greenaway, member of the Ecumenical Jury

It is a film festival like no other. The Golden Apricot Film Festival in Yerevan, Armenia has faith and cultural identity at its heart.

The annual festival – held this year from 08-15 July – is a showcase of Armenian film and culture for international guests, visitors and jury members. The ninth edition of the festival that concluded Saturday featured a programme with faith front and centre.

From the creation by the Armenian Apostolic Church of an award for film making that enlightens humankind, to a memorial service for three internationally renowned film directors, to the presence of an Ecumenical Jury, it was hard to miss the link between film and faith.

The explanation appears to lie in the vital role the Armenian Apostolic Church has played historically, and continues to play today, in the preservation of Armenian culture and identity through its support of language, art, music and publishing – support which embraces the art of film making.

The festival opened with a unique ceremony of blessing apricots held at St. Zoravor Armenian Apostolic Church in the downtown area of Yerevan. On July 12, a mass commemorating three of the world’s great film makers – Michelangelo Antonioni, Tonino Guerra and Theodoros Angelopoulos – was held at the same church. The widows of Tonino Guerra and Theodoros Angelopulos were present for the mass and for the evening celebration of the directors’ film legacy that followed.

A new feature of the festival programme this year was the creation of the “Let there be light” award by the Armenian Apostolic Church to honour a “significant contribution to global cinematography” that promotes spiritual, cultural and humanitarian values. The prize went to the Russian director, Alexander Sokurov. Sokurov also received the SIGNIS jury award at Venice last year for his Faust, an adaptation of Goethe's drama.

At the festival’s closing ceremony on Saturday, members of the Ecumenical Jury awarded its Prize to If Only Everyone, an Armenian film directed by Natalia Belyauskene.

Still from "If Only Everyone" ("Ete Bolory")

In the citation accompanying the award, the jury writes: “This film addresses the legacy of the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. A young woman’s search for her soldier father’s grave sets off events that lead to forgiveness – of oneself and of ‘the other’ – through dialogue and reconciliation.  It is about how we can come to see our common humanity even in those once seen as only as ‘the enemy’.”

The jury also awarded a Commendation to the Turkish film Future lasts forever directed by Özcan Alper. The Commendation reads: “The story of a young musicologist’s trip into a Kurdish region of Turkey to gather elegies becomes a sequence of encounters with images and testimonies of violence and survival. As such, it speaks to the fate of minorities throughout the world.”

Jury members at the Golden Apricot Film Festival this year included Kristine Greenaway (Canada/Switzerland) representing the Protestant film network, INTERFILM; Ricardo Ruiz de la Serna, appointed by the Catholic film association, SIGNIS; and His Grace Bishop Gevork Saroyan, named by the Armenian Apostolic Church. 

Festival founder and director, Harutyun Khachatryan, says Ecumenical Juries have been present from the first edition of the Golden Apricot Film Festival in 2003. Khachatryan knew of ecumenical juries from his experience at other festivals. One of his own films Return to the Promised Land was awarded an ecumenical jury prize in 1993 at a festival in St. Petersburg.

“The role of the Ecumenical Jury at the Golden Apricot Festival,” says Khachatryan, “is to evaluate the films in competition from the cultural and spiritual perspective. The jury judges the films for how they use the language of cinema to express spiritual values.”
Plans are already underway for the tenth edition of the festival which will include new developments in its well-established tradition of supporting and training young film makers.