BY CATHERINE YESAYAN
This year the annual Arpa International Film Festival celebrated its 18th year—a worthy accomplishment. Throughout its existence, Arpa has created a platform for independent film makers from around the globe to feature their talents. The festival is held in the entertainment capital of the world, in the heart of Hollywood at the Egyptian Theatre.
I’ve been a loyal follower of the festival, and since I started to write this column for Asbarez, I’ve tried to convey to readers the movies that have impacted me.
As the world commemorated the centennial of the Armenian Genocide this year, it was certainly fitting to open the festival with a film that tackled the events of 100 years ago in Anatolia. The extraordinary feature length opening movie, Lost Birds, was brought to us by two young emerging filmmakers, Aren Perdeci and Ela Alyamac from Turkey.
The movie begins with a delightful scene focusing on two siblings, Maryam and Bedo, ages 7 and 8, who have a knack for causing trouble. They are playing tricks on merchants who bring their wares to the bazaar of the village, situated in Anatolia, Turkey. The year is 1915.
The happy family life of the kids comes to an end when the man of the house, their grandfather, is taken away by soldiers. Some days later, when the kids return from playing in the nearby woods, they find their home and the whole village empty and deserted. The children, along with their bird “Bachig,” embark on a journey to search for their family.
Maybe it was the fear of the abandoned kids getting harmed, or maybe underneath the delicate movie I saw the harsh reality of the historic events that would unfold. I watched the well-made movie with a lump in my throat.
I praise the young filmmakers. The movie was absolutely beautiful, powerful and touching, not to say that it subtly depicted the emotional aspects and how our ancestors were deported or exterminated. Both Perdeci and Alyamac have graduated from film school and have won many accolades for their short and feature length works.
Aren Perdeci was born in 1979 in an Armenian household in Istanbul, Turkey. He says the seed of making of such a movie was planted when he started to read about the mass deportation of Armenians from Turkey and heard the story of his great grandfather, Armenak Avakyan, who was taken away from Konya, Turkey in 1915, with no return.
I interviewed Ela and Aren about the making of the film.
Ela: “I met Aren in 2009 at a film festival in Budapest, Hungary, where both of us had film submissions. He told me that he wanted to write a screenplay about two siblings left behind. I was intrigued because I liked the idea of telling a story through the eyes of a brother and a sister.”
That’s how their partnership began. The next step for Aren was to start writing the screenplay.
Aren: “The most important thing for us was the approval of the Ministry of Culture’s cinema fund, because we wanted to shoot the film with the real descendants of the Ottoman Armenians in the real Anatolian locations that the story took place.”
Ela: “We applied to the Ministry of Culture’s cinema fund in 2012. A film about the tragedy of 1915 was never made in Turkey before. They made us wait for one year. Then they approved the project and we received a very small amount of funding. For us the approval was the most important because it was impossible to shoot the film in Turkey otherwise.”
Aren: “They approved the screenplay without touching a single word.”
Ela: “We think it was like a miracle that the making of the film got approved.”
My last question was who played the roles of the siblings.
Aren: “The seven year old girl was Turkish but the boy was Armenian, and the role of the mother was played by the boy’s real mother, who was not an actress.”
I was really surprised to learn that the mother, excellent in her role, was not played by a real actress.
The world premiere of the movie was on the opening night of the Arpa International Film Festival on Friday November 13, 2015 at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The Festival brought more accolades for these emerging filmmakers– garnering Best Director, Best Feature Length Film and the Armin T. Wegener Humanitarian Award.
You can see the movie in Glendale, CA through Wednesday December 2 at MGN Five Star Cinema (128 N. Maryland Ave.) two screenings a night at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.