The Long and Short of It

By Jenny Kiljian

The 7th Annual Arpa International Film Festival took place from October 5-10–2004 at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood–California. The Arpa Foundation for Film Music and Arts (AFFMA) is an Armenian organization–but the films participating in the yearly festival do not need to be topically Armenian. "The festival has grown beyond its Armenian roots–to encompass many ethnic groups," said Varoujan Baghdassarian–who served in the 2004 Film Festival Committee and was instrumental in garnering the sponsorship of the International Film Channel and Charter Communications. "The international component of the festival has grown tremendously. "This year–the festival showcased 63 films of various genres from a diverse group of filmmakers representing the United States–Iran–Armenia–Russia–Spain–Australia–Italy–Botswana–and Japan–among others. Short films–documentaries–and feature films were screened–as were several animated films–a new category in the festival.

AFFMA–which was founded in 1995–began hosting the International Film Festival in 1997. Home to other notable film festivals–including the Outfest and the American Film Institute’s AFI FEST–the ArcLight Cinemas have hosted the AFFMA festival since 2002. "The film festival industry is very dense in Los Angeles–and ArcLight hosts most of the biggest festivals," noted Alex Kalognomos–a member of the 2004 Film Festival Committee. "It is rewarding to have Arpa hosted by ArcLight."

The festival committee partnered for the first time with the Web site withoutabox.com–a film festival submission service–and were pleased with the results that it generated. "The site brought to Arpa filmmakers who might never have discovered our niche festival had it not been for the internet," said Kalognomos. "We had such fascinating films–from twenty different countries. Withoutabox brought us a whole new audience–not to mention a new generation of filmmakers."

AFFMA–named after the Arpa river in Armenia–works throughout the year–hosting various fund-raisers in order to give gran’s to artists–musicians and filmmakers. They also encourage networking by inviting patrons of the arts to mixers. Organizers hope that–as the international aspect of the festival grows–the Armenian community’s involvement in the organization will not diminish. "The Armenian community can support AFFMA the way it does Homenetmen or AGBU," said Kalognomos–who has acted in several independent films. "Armenian organizations could give gran’s to filmmakers through AFFMA. Why not have an AGBU Film Award at our gala? The children and grandchildren of those organizations already work tirelessly to raise funds for AFFMA."

AFFMA and its festival–according to Kalognomos–can serve as a springboard for aspiring Armenian filmmakers–producers–directors and actors. "Our community’s children are beginning to feel welcome not only at Arpa events but also in the entertainment industry–in general," he said. "Arpa is an open stage just waiting for our community to present itself on it."

In fact–one of the highlights of this year’s festival was the presentation of SilverCrest Entertainment’s latest film–Lost (2004)–starring Dean Cain. Produced by SilverCrest CEO Kevin Matossian–the film is a noir drama that follows Cain’s Jeremy Stanton as he runs from his conscience and the co-conspirator whom he double-crossed following a bank robbery. The film garnered so much attention that organizers screened it twice. At the red-carpet world premiere–Cain praised the production crew for taking on the challenge of making and promoting the independent film. "Kevin Matossian is a real risk-taker–and his work with Lost demonstrates this," said Cain–who also got a glimpse of the Armenian community through Matossian. "If Kevin is any indication–then the Armenian people must be an amazing group–and I definitely want to work with them again."

This year’s festival hardly under its belt–AFFMA has already started planning events for the coming year and for the 2005 Arpa International Film Festival. For more information about the Arpa Foundation for Film–Music and Arts–visit www.affma.org

LOST

A centerpiece film at this year’s festival–Lost is a noir drama starring Dean Cain and Danny Trejo. Produced by SilverCrest Entertainment CEO Kevin Matossian–Lost has generated considerable industry buzz since its Arpa premiere in October.

ELEGY

With Arno Babadjanian’s eponymous piece as its score–Elegy is a deftly executed animation by Nadine Takvorian about an elderly man who plays with his marionettes–and reminisces about a lost love. Even in its brevity–the piece is poignant and evocative–and captures the broad spectrum of the man’s emotions–happiness–nostalgia and profound grief. "Elegy took our breath away at our pre-festival screenings," says Alex Kalognomos–a member of the 2004 Film Festival Committee. The film was nominated for Best Animation in this year’s Arpa International Film Festival–having already won 2nd place at the Urban Mediamakers Film Festival in Atlanta Georgia. Elegy is also nominated for Best Animation in the 2005 Slamdance Festival. Takvorian–who lives and works in Northern California–also illustrated the album cover for Just Because I’m a Woman–Songs of Dolly Parton–a tribute album to the acclaimed singer. For more information about Takvorian–visit www.nadinetakvorian.com

VAKONESH E PANJOM (THE FIFTH REACTION)

Iranian filmmaker Tahmineh Milani returned to the Arpa International Film Festival with her controversial film Vakonesh e Panjom (The Fifth Reaction)–a story about the clashing of modernism against tradition. Recently widowed Fereshteh–a young teacher–is disinherited by her father-in-law who–according to Muslim law–now holds legal guardianship over her two sons. Fereshteh’s four colleagues conspire help her kidnap her sons and head for the border. Meanwhile–her father-in-law goes to every extreme to maintain custody of his grandchildren. Milani has long been a powerful voice for feminism in Iran. In 2001–she was arrested and charged for "offense against Islam," and condemned to death. The sentence was overturned and Milani was set free a few months later.

COLOR BLIND

The screenplay for the short film Color Blind began as a class project director Shervin Youssefian–26–made during his freshman year of college. He expanded it into a more mature script for his senior project–which ended up being the final version of the film. The fifteen-minute drama is a stylized piece about a director–played by Youssefian–who casts Grace (Shannan Allyn)–the woman he secretly admires as the heroine in his film. "I was honored to have Color Blind showcased with so many other wonderful films and to be part of such a professional and respected community of filmmakers and enthusiasts," said Youssefian. "AFFMA seeks out films that break the mold of cinema–while retaining the medium’s immense emotional power. It creates a nurturing environment–especially for the beginning filmmaker."

DAY OF INDEPENDENCE

Academy Award-winning director Chris Tashima found the Arpa International Film Festival through the internet–and submitted Day of Independence because he thought it kept with the festival’s themes–which include issues of diaspora–exile and multi-culturalism. The film chronicles the struggle of Japanese Americans during World War II–as they are forced into internment camps. The characters in the film seem to flourish despite adversity–especially 17-year-old Zip (Derek Mio) and his other Nisei (second generation Japanese-American) friends. The teenagers listen to music–dance–and play baseball–proving that they’re American–even though the government would sooner have them deported.

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