My Mother’s Voice: A Genocide Survivor’s Story
Premiering at Toronto’s Pomegranate Film Festival October 21
BY ELISE KALFAYAN
My Mother’s Voice, a genocide survivor documentary based on the novel A Gift in the Sunlight, premiers this weekend at the Pomegranate Film Festival in Toronto. Kay Mouradian presented the book, based on her mother Flora Munushian’s story, at the Glendale Public Library back in 2009. I first met Mouradian there, then found opportunities to talk with her when we saw each other at civic, literary, and networking events. Her family and her extensive “community links” gave her resources, determination and encouragement to write the book, as well as professional contacts to help her translate it into a historical documentary.
“I am my mother’s voice,” Mouradian says in the film, echoing the prediction in her book’s preface: “she told me in no uncertain terms that I was going to write a book about her life.” This hadn’t been her goal or even a thought until her mother’s last years. Although she was the author of two professional books, she had never written fiction before. Presenting the story of her mother’s teenage years as a novel was an excellent decision. The narrative is well-paced and action-packed, with the right amount of carefully researched details. Told from her mother’s point of view, the story highlights Flora’s drive to get an education, her youthful idealism and her inner strength. The book is a great read for both young readers and adults, with a positive message and story arc.
The film based on the book is more of a history of the genocide’s impact on Flora and her family. Among its visuals: a copy and translation of the deportation order posted in Hadjin, where the family lived before their march toward Der Zor; a photograph of Rev. Hovhanness Eskijian, who rescued Flora, her sister and hundreds of Armenian orphans in Aleppo; and a photograph of Flora’s family – most of whom perished during the march or in Der Zor.
Mouradian’s cousin, ABGU benefactor Jack Munushian, was an important family link to sources she needed for the story. He gave her an uncle’s letter describing a mass slaughter along the Euphrates where Hadjin deportees perished. “Jack’s parents had kept a lot of materials I was able to use,” Mouradian said.
A local writers’ group was another community link cheering Mouradian on to reach her goal. After meeting her at the library, I talked with her at these writers’ meetings. Each time she had important progress to report about her book’s impact and the documentary. Besides myself and Catherine Yesayan, no one else in that group had an Armenian background or was familiar with personal accounts of the Armenian genocide, so Mouradian’s story had a great impact.
At subsequent library events, and at other professional events in the community, I would see Mouradian and catch up on her latest news. One of her South Pasadena neighbors had introduced her to his colleague, award-winning filmmaker Mark Friedman. Friedman agreed to produce the film with her. “He was so far-sighted, and very resourceful,” Mouradian said. Together they searched out original film footage and were able to use portions of the 1919 silent film Ravished Armenia that appears on Zareh Tjeknavorian’s DVD Credo.
Tjeknavorian wrote to Mouradian, “Congratulations to you and Mark for so beautifully and affectingly bringing the message of your mother’s life to the world. Her voice speaks so eloquently through your own. This film, and the vast history it artfully distills into such a poignant and positive personal story is as much a testimony to the resiliency of family and culture across generations as it is to the evil that sought to destroy them. I am sure it will go a long way to honoring the memory of Flora and the millions she speaks for.”
Mouradian’s South Pasadena community links not only got her introduced to a top-notch film collaborator, they have also supported and recognized her educational and civic endeavors. While serving as LA Community College Professor of Health and Physical Education, she published guidebooks and studies on yoga. She was honored for her professional and literary achievements by Congressman Adam Schiff, who named her 2012 Woman of the Year for South Pasadena. She is one of the original members of Women in South Pasadena Political Action (WISPPA), a group that encourages well-qualified women to become active in city government and civic organizations.
WISPPA’s 2012 annual meeting in September drew close to 50 people, women and men. Some fellow writers and I were invited as guests, because a private screening of My Mother’s Voice was scheduled right after the organization’s business concluded. This audience also (except for perhaps four Armenian-Americans) was unfamiliar with personal genocide stories, and it was clear the whole room was strongly affected by the film. “The film is tastefully, artfully done, the music is beautiful, and your narration hit all the right notes,” one viewer wrote later. “It’s a shock (and a shame) that this subject is not taught in high school history classes. I sure didn’t know much about it until I moved to Glendale and started talking with Armenian friends.”
In furthering her mission to tell her mother’s story, Mouradian reached out to and beyond her higher education community, our mutual library and literary connections, and her civic advocacy contacts. She established links with the Ararat-Eskijian Museum, the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute in Yerevan, The Genocide Education Project, the Near East Archive, and many individuals who have collected and published original research. She has published a wonderful book and produced a moving documentary. See it in Toronto if you are there this weekend! Read more about Kay Mouradian’s work on her website, KayMouradian.com.