By Alin K. Gregorian
LOS ANGELES — Director Christopher Chambers sounds like he is calling from somewhere in the center of the earth. It is because he is calling from yet another locale, where he is promoting his new film, “Aram Aram,” about a young Armenian boy who is sent by his family to live with his grandfather in Los Angeles, amidst the city’s huge Armenian community.
The Los Angeles-born Chambers had just left Armenia, where he had participated in the Golden Apricot International Film Festival and much to his delight and surprise, gotten a thunderous welcome.
“I was very curious to see how ‘Aram Aram’ would play in Armenia. The story is essential an American story [of immigrants]. Most Armenians are not immigrants. They have been there 1,000 years or more!”
During a question-and-answer period at the end of the film, he recalled, one woman got up and said “how she loved the film and how it resonated with her. The struggle of the characters” was something she could understand, he said.
Of course, he loved the hearty Armenian welcome in Yerevan. “It was really an international festival. The highlight was seeing Yerevan. The reception there was really incredibly warm. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced. I was invited to dinners with these huge spreads,” he said.
“It’s a small story set in Little Armenia about the relationship between a boy and a father figure,” he explained. He tackled this group that he know little about and joked, “I’m the whitest guy I know.”
The film is the story of young Aram, who at age 12 is sent from his hometown of Beirut to live with his grandfather in Little Armenia in East Hollywood. “Aram Aram” is the first American feature to focus on the Armenian-populated enclave while portraying culture clashes between the East and West as well as within the immigrant culture of Los Angeles.
The film stars John Roohinian in the title role, as well as Levon Sharafyan, Sevak Hakoyan, Alla Tumanian and Inga Stamboltyan, among others.
Before this film he had worked on indie titles “I’m Through with White Girls (The Inevitable Undoing of Jay Brooks)” (2007), “Dog Eat Dog” (2002) and “Today You Are a Fountain Pen” (2002).
Chambers has lived in Los Angeles all his life, but he never knew any Armenians personally. He attended Wesleyan University in Connecticut and later the American Film Institute in Los Angeles and later started working on independent films with the hope that he would be making films himself. He moved away from filmmaking to shooting TV promotional spots and to his surprise, found that he excelled at them. The process was exhausting, as he said, he has done about 4,000 to 5,000 of them to date. “They were six-and-a-half day weeks,” he said.
He decided a few years ago that the time was right to throw himself into his first film.
“I was working non-stop for quite a while. I finished one big project and looked around and [making my own film] was getting further and further away,” he said, arriving at the existential question: “What have you done with your life?”
Thus, he said, he quit his day job and threw himself into the project that eventually became “Aram Aram.”
Chambers started doing research on the Armenian community in 2010. He knew only the stereotypes he had seen on the news or heard about and he wanted to understand more, including the story of immigrants in the community.
Once he was done with a draft of a story, he handed it around to his new contacts in the Armenian community in order to get the voice right. “I wanted it to be more authentic,” he said.
In fact, many of the locals that he met in Little Armenia and advised him “have become my extended family.”
In a statement he had released earlier, he said, “Growing up in Los Angeles, I have long been fascinated by the Armenian community – it is an insular group, widely stereotyped and widely misunderstood. I realized that I had never seen an American film made about Armenians in America and I became intrigued…. In making ‘Aram, Aram’ I wanted to tell a universal story set within a specific milieu that had not been seen in American film before. I wanted to make a film that touched on the simple, profound value of a tender touch and I wanted to tap into something universal. ‘Aram, Aram’ centers around the theme of every child’s fundamental need for a father figure. The story plays out within the Armenian community of Little Armenia in Los Angeles, but the plot is one that could have taken place in any number of American immigrant communities.”
He soon realized that Armenians love to talk, especially about their collective and individual histories to someone who is unfamiliar with the subject.
Chambers learned, among other things, that Armenians are not a homogenous group, coming here from different places and bringing with them their different stories.
Of course, another star of the film is the city itself, which is “strangely diverse and yet self-segregating.”
Much of the film is set in a shoe repair shop belonging to Jack Hagopian, a man who has a similar story to the grandfather in the movie. In real life, Hagopian trained as a professional pianist before relocating to LA from Beirut and opening Hyperion Shoe Repair.
The film has already had a great reception in the US, where it was selected to be shown at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June.
Chambers said that the film will also be shown in the Montreal Film Festival on September 1. After that, he plans to bring the film to Fresno, Los Angles and Boston. It will open on October 15 at the Glendale Civic Theatre at the Americana and in Watertown on November 1.
For more information on the film, check out its facebook page at