About Town – A Day in NYC

Catherine Yesayan

Second part of my visit to New York City

BY CATHERINE YESAYAN

After I attended the lecture by Hazel Antaramian at St. Vartan Cathedral I took a taxi to Greenwich Village, NYC to attend the Closing Ceremony of Rated SR Socially Relevant Film Festival New York at the Tenri Cultural Institute.

Versatility is a good watchword to describe Nora Armani, the founding artistic director of the new Rated SR film festival. With her boundless energy and multifaceted talents as an actress, film producer and curator, Armani has created the Rated SR festival to bring awareness to social issues through the powerful medium of cinema.

The Rated SR Film Festival ran from March 14 to 20, 2014 in New York’s Quad Cinema. It provided a platform and an opportunity for 55 films from 18 countries to find their audience.

While undoubtedly an important step in expanding knowledge and bringing awareness, the Rated SR Film Festival shined the spotlight on emerging filmmakers that tackle tough social and environmental issues and who produce films that tell compelling Socially Relevant stories.

As I arrived to Tenri center, people started to drop in. It didn’t take long for the foyer of the Tenri Cultural Center with its white washed, modern and sleek architectural design to fill with people milling about and enjoying the delicious bite-size hors d’oeuvres and drinks that were served.

Music collided with visual art, when Laurence Goldman entertained the crowd with familiar pieces on his double bass (contrabass). The feeling in the air was of heightened expectation. People were waiting to hear which films became award recipients.

Nora Armani with Jessica Vale, winner of the Vanya Exerjian 'Empowering Women and Girls' Award

Her Excellency Romanian Ambassador Simona Miculescu, permanent representative to the UN was the special guest of honor. She presented together with Nora Armani the ‘Empowering Women and Girls’ award in memory of Vanya Exerjian, Nora Armani’s cousin who was victim of a violent attack in Egypt 10 years ago. The exquisite trophy that was designed and donated by renowned metal-ware designer Michael Aram, went to Jessica Vale of Small Small Thing. Co-producer Barnie Jones received the award on behalf of the filmmaker. Hearing the Ambassador speak made me realize how filmmakers bring heightened awareness and shed light on issues that would otherwise remain hidden or obscure to the public.

In the documentary competition category, an award in the form of a distribution deal from Cinema Libre Studio of Los Angeles, was awarded by Jury member Niki Bhattacharya, to Not Who We Are by Carol Mansour – a documentary about Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The first runner up in this category was Stable Life buy Sara Macpherson.

The Grand Prize of the festival, generously donated by Elliott Kanbar of the Quad Cinema’s QuadFlix Select Program, represents a weeklong release of the winning film. The feature competition category Grand Prize winner was Jessica Vale for Small Small Thing. The first runner up in this category was Lucky Express by Anna Fischer.

The birth of Rated SR Socially Relevant film festival New York was celebrated by the cutting of a special cake. Armani spoke words of gratitude to the festival’s partners, sponsors, the many friends, family, who believed in the importance of this festival, and members of the Rated SR team who volunteered their time and worked very hard to make the festival a reality. And to conclude Armani’s words of deepest gratitude went to the audience members present, “Because without your help and support we cannot have a second year’s festival. And now that the festival exists, it is the responsibility of all of us to make sure it not only survives, but thrives!” said Armani.

Closing night of the Rated SR Socially Relevant Film Festival

It is noteworthy to mention that the international selection of films had a high percentage of Armenian titles, seven in total. These were: Orphans of the Genocide (Bared Maronian), Hamshen Community on the Crossroads of Past and Present (Lusine Sahakyan), If Only Everyone (Natalya Belyauskene), Bavakan (Adrineh Gregorian), Armenian Activists Now (Robert Davidyan), Later than Usual (David Hovan) and Early Moring (Harlan Bosmajian).

Many filmmakers had come from far away to be part of the festival. Among award recipients, I met Linda Niccol who had made the journey from New Zealand. She won an award for a screenplay she wrote about a teenage girl with Down Syndrome.

Mingling with film-makers and the intellectual crowd of New York made me feel that I was a “New Yorker.” Across from Tenri center, at Quad Cinema there was a late night screening of the winning documentary and the winning feature film. I was too tired and jet-lagged to stay up and watch the movies. I took advantage of the pleasant weather, and walked the few blocks to the subway station and headed to where I was staying. Arguably the event left me with great vibrations and raw materials to write about.

Catherine Yesayan is a columnist at Asbarez. Read more stories on her blog.

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