By Aram Arkun
BELMONT, Mass. — “Simon’s Way,” a short feature film from Armenia, will be screened at the Global Cinema Film Festival of Boston in Belmont on Sunday, March 12 at 5:15 p.m.
The Armenian National Film Academy named it the best short film of 2016, while the Direct Monthly Online Film Festival and the Monthly Film Festival both independently recognized it as the Film of the Month for January 2017. A representative of the film production will be present from Armenia to speak and answer questions from the audience after the screening. The presentation is cosponsored by the Armenian Museum of America, and its director, Berj Chekijian, will serve as the moderator of the discussion.
The story of the film itself is a simple one. Villagers in Armenia live on the border with Turkey and for 25 years have talked to one another through signals and binoculars because of the difficulties of crossing the border. Finally the death of an old relative, grandfather Artin, leads the middle-aged Simon, one of the Armenian villagers, to take the risk and financial burden of traveling in a roundabout long path across the border. He must go to Yerevan, then Istanbul and then all the way back via plane, train, bus and foot to the border village in Turkey.
Artin’s children and grandchildren, themselves scattered throughout various Turkish cities like Ankara, Istanbul and Diyarbakir, return for the funeral. Simon, hearing names like Hasan and Mustafa, wonders whether they are Armenian, but they reassure him. They speak Turkish but their passports still are marked “Christian.” Artin Dede leaves Simon the present of the family tree. The death briefly unites the divided relatives.
The film’s director, Edgar Baghdasaryan, explained that the film is fictional, but draws on various aspects of real life. For example, such family divisions exist on the Armenian-Georgian border, and those Armenians with Abkhazian stamps on their passports could not go directly back into Georgian territory or would be imprisoned.
Similarly, there are many Turkified or Islamicized Armenians in Turkey. Baghdasaryan said, “I have personally met some of them. They know they are Armenian by origin, but their names are Mustafa, Hasan and so forth.” The border between Armenia and Turkey has been closed since 1993 and the two countries have no direct diplomatic relations, making personal connections between individuals in the two countries difficult. Baghdasaryan has gone twice to Turkey, and in 2000 encountered some problems there.
Baghdasaryan said that the film is set in a village near Gyumri because this is near the Turkish border and so the Gyumri dialect is heard. An Istanbul Armenian helped with the Turkish language used, and in fact also played a minor role as a Turk in the film.
Baghdasaryan stressed that the film is not merely about Armenian-Turkish incidents. He said: “It has [Armenian] national roots, but the fruits are for all. It is neither provincial nor governmental in nature. What is important in the film are the ideas. It shows what borders are like and how people become victims of politics.” This is not unique to Armenians. He pointed out that similar things happened, for example, in the countries of the former Yugoslavia.
Baghdasaryan, born in 1964 in Yerevan, graduated from the Armenian Agriculture Academy in 1985 and worked as a director of mass events in two Armenian governmental companies. In 1988 he began working as an assistant director at the Armenfilm film studio. In other words, growing up in the Soviet period, Baghdasaryan began to make films only during its final collapse. His debut short film, “Games,” appeared in 1990.
He worked at Armenia Film Studio, an Armenian-American firm, until 2009, and has served as creative director of the international advertising agency Publicis Hepta since 2010.
Baghdasaryan’s feature fiction films include “The Black Wall” (1977), “Mariam” (2006), and “Forgiveness” (2013), and his documentaries include “The Land of Holy Rites” (2001) and “From Ararat to Zion” (2010). He joked that when he got tired of actors, he made documentaries.
Baghdasaryan declines to consider himself a filmmaker with a fixed style or school. He said, “Each story has a different rhythm which requires a different style to be authentic. One film may have a static camera, and another rapid shifts.” However, he is not a fan of postmodernism, and declared, “I am tired of post modernism and its irony and indifference.”
On his father’s side, Baghdasaryan is descended from survivors of the Armenian Genocide. His grandfather fled Sasun at 5 years old, and was miraculously saved. Baghdasaryan would like to turn this story into a film. He believes that until the present, Armenians have not succeeded in their attempts at making films on the Genocide because “we try to reach minds, not hearts, which are more important. This is due to complexes, which perhaps our children will solve.”
Baghdasaryan is also concerned about the difficulties of cinema in independent Armenia. The West and American films in particular are taking over the market. There are no technological issues in making films in Armenia at present. Finances are however always lacking. He is hopeful that the situation will change as new theaters open and serious artistic work is created. Furthermore, he said that the high-level films that do exist in Armenia are not being distributed in the US.
Raouf J. Jacob, the coordinator of the Global Cinema Film Festival, said that “Simon’s Way” was the first film from Armenia presented in the three years of the festival. Hundreds of internet submissions were screened by a jury to come up with the 28, including “Simon’s Way,” in this year’s program.
Jacob said, “We found this film to be very effective, and very culturally in-line with the Armenian culture that I have grown to understand, living in Watertown and having plenty of Armenian friends. Speaking with the older generation, some of the themes discussed in the film were relevant for others who had similar difficulties in traveling through borders of these two countries.” All the developments in the world now concerning borders made this film seem even more relevant.
The goal of the festival is to promote “films to make people care” about human rights and the human condition throughout the world. Jacob is from a Lebanese family living for five generations in Sierra Leone in West Africa. It immigrated to Boston in 2000, and Jacob became a film documentarian spotlighting social and political injustice such as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, America’s war in Iraq, the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, the Darfur genocide, the persecution of the Baha’i in Iran, the reign of drug warlord Pablo Escobar in Colombia, and civil war and related events in Sierra Leone.
The film festival is an extension of his film company, Worldwide Cinema Frames and Films. The festival provides a cinematic tour of the world, focusing, Jacob said, “on sensitive issues which deserve national and global attention.” Many of the independent films being screened would not be seen by broader audiences without this festival, and realistically may not be seen again.
Films from Cyprus, Israel, Palestine, Turkey and many other countries will be shown at the festival.
The film festival takes place at Studio Cinema, at 376 Trapelo Road, Belmont, from March 9 to 12. For more information on the various films or on how to buy tickets, visit http://www.worldwidecinemaframes.com/global-cinema-film-festival. Tickets are also available at the cinema box office.