Return to the Promised Land: London Armenian Film Festival

The first major season of Armenian cinema–and only the second ever in the UK in 25 years

The London Armenian Film Festival will feature works from the country itself and from the extensive global Armenian diaspora–offering an eye-opening glimpse into a culture that is all too little known in Britain.

Armenia’s have been prominent players in international cinema for as long as the medium itself–whether as actors–producers–writers or directors. However–the focus of this season is distinctive. Showcasing shorts–features–documentaries and artists’ film–Return to the Promised Land: the London Armenian Film Festival presents works that deal directly–but in always invigorating and imaginative ways–with Armenian history and identity. Themes of exile–migration–place and belonging are constantly being revisited in fresh and dynamic ways–as different communities consider what such important issues mean to them. Such concerns change of course depending on whether the film-maker lives in contemporary Armenia or in the many countries–especially Canada–France and the United States–that have significant–and very successful–diaspora populations.

Among this latter group–perhaps the work of Toronto-based auteur Atom Egoyan which has bought Armenian issues to wider public attention–most notably in his features Calendar and Ararat–the latter being the most prominent film yet made on the Armenian Genocide and its huge repercussions on subsequent generations.

This theme has also been dealt with by the Berlin-located director Don Askarian–whose Komitas creates a poetic biography–reflective and surprisingly calm–of the life of the iconic composer Komitas–who was driven into silence and insanity as a result of the horrors he witnessed.

But the works are also celebrations–of endurance–resistance–continuity and of the extraordinary culture itself. Nowhere is this more abundantly clear than in the undisputed classic that is Sergei Paradjanov’s The Color of Pomegranates. Unique in world cinema–this cine-poem creates tableaux of unsurpassed beauty and insight around the writings and times of the celebrated poet Sayat Nova. In a cinematic sense–it can be said to contain the enduring spirit of Armenian identity.

Multi-layered approaches like Paradjanov’s have also influenced Canadian resident Garine Torossian–one of the few Armenian women film-makers–who brings a resolutely contemporary tone to her textured and articulate short works around diaspora relationships to the homeland.

The festival will also screen lost gems and work by overlooked directors of great skill. Tigran Xmalian–who opens and closes the season with his two recent features–also runs the Capital’s Yerevan Film Studios and is a key figure in maintaining and developing an active film culture in Armenia today–despite the serious economic pressures the country as a whole is facing. Meanwhile–director Haroutiun Khachatryan creates meditative documentary dramas that feel closer in mood to the resurgent Iranian cinema. Less concerned with conventional narrative–they look at landscapes and lives with a philosophical and empathetic eye.

The festival also features works of Artavazd Pelechian–whose collective works might last no longer than three hours–but the short films of are among the most astonishing in the history of cinema. His profoundly intense examinations of human and cosmic themes–largely wordless–are edited with a mastery of scale and rhythm which makes all life on earth swarm and bloom through the celluloid.

The festival runs February 11 – 17 at London’s Cin lumire


Lighter than Air

Armenia | 2000 | b&w | 102 mins | dir. Tigran Xmalian–with Vladimir Msrian–Hrach Harutunian–Anush Khorenian

Xmalian’s charming feature is a surreal–bittersweet love story to his homeland and culture. Moving from the 1960s to the ’90s and centered around the iconic figure of a clown who was beloved of Armenian audiences–Pierlequin creates a world of tenderness and magic among the challenges facing contemporary Armenia.

Garin Torossian Artists’ Film Program

Short Films Program | 90 mins

Toronto-based Garin Torossian will present a selection of her strikingly multi-layered shorts. Like Egoyan–Torossian’s work is informed by migration and she has turned to experimental film-making to conjure the primary forces of the Armenian diaspora.

Vodka Lemon

Armenia / France / Italy / Switzerland | 2003 | col | 89 mins | dir. Hiner Saleem–with Romen Avinian–Lala Sarkissian–Ivan Franek | cert. PG

A laconic love story focused on a solitary widower and a woman tending a roadside bar–Vodka Lemon is a droll and charming hymn to endurance and fellowship–building its off-center world calmly and steadily–much in the manner of Otar Iosseliani.


Canada / Armenia / Germany | 1993 | col | 74 mins | dir. Atom Egoyan–with Atom Egoyan–Arsine Khanjian–Ashot Adamian | cert. 15

Provocatively–Egoyan takes the lead role in this fascinating meditation on relationships – to one’s lover–country–history–memory and to images. A witty–playful and always intriguing exploration of his abiding themes–this was–before Ararat–Egoyan’s most explicitly ‘Armenian’ feature.

Armenian National Cinema

A broad consideration of the unique qualities of Armenian cinema–both within the country and diaspora–and reflections on its place in soviet and world cinema–and on the difficulties facing contemporary production in the country. With Armenian cinema specialist Nora Armani–film-makers Garin Torossian and Tigran Xmalian and film critic Artsvi Bakhchinyan. Moderator: Gareth Evans–editor of Vertigo magazine and festival co-programmer.

Artavazd Pelechian

Short Films Program | 120 mins

Among the most astonishing short works in the history of cinema–the profoundly intense films of Artavazd Pelechian are visionary examinations of human and cosmic themes. Largely wordless and rhythmic–they are edited with a mastery of scale and rhythm which makes all life on earth swarm and bloom through the celluloid.

Return to the Promised Land

Armenia | 1991 | b&w & col | 80 mins | dir. Harutiun Khachatryan

Katchatryan’s audacious film is a strikingly photographed study of an Armenian farmer and his family surviving in a harsh landscape in an abandoned–snow-clad village. As the first crops come to life–the village children smile again and dance to the tunes of the visiting tightrope walkers and musicians. However–danger still lurks in the distance.

Preceded by 2 short films:

Terra Emota & Lux Aeterna

Arm/Fr | 1999 | 10 mins each | both dir. Levon Minassian and Serge Avedikian

Impressionistic dispatches from the fault line: an earthquake in 1988 devastated Gyumri–Armenia’s second city. Levon Minassian was in the city at the time and caught the destruction on film. Ten years later–he returns to find a city still dealing with the legacy of such a disaster.

Last Station

Armenia / France / UK | 1995 | col | 93 mins | dir. Harutiun Khachatryan and Nora Armani–with Nora Armani–Gerald Papasian–Armen Djigarkhanian

A stage couple from the Armenian diaspora travel the world performing a play about their national identity and history. Shot on location with its real-life protagonists–Last Station skillfully mixes documentary and fiction to explore love–exile and the artistic dilemma of belonging.

The Color of Pomegranates

Armenia / USSR | 1969 | col | 78 mins | dir. Sergei Paradjanov–with Sofiko Chiaureli–Melkon Aleksanyan–Vilen Galstyan | Director’s Cut | cert. 12A

Paradjanov’s extraordinary film–unique in world cinema–is a visual poem loosely inspired by the life and death of Armenian poet-troubadour Sayat Nova. A work of astonishing beauty–mystery and dreamlike authority.

Ararat–Genocide Remembrance and Armenian Cinema

A consideration of the legacy of the Armenian genocide and its cinematic incarnations. Is it even possible to represent such a vast and traumatic subject on film? With Nouritza Matossian (biographer of Arshile Gorky and consultant to Ararat)–critic Artsvi Bakhchinyan–genocide historian Ara Sarafian and Nora Armani.


Canada / France | 2002 | col | 115 mins | dir. Atom Egoyan–with Arsine Khanjian–Charles Aznavour–Elias Koteas–Marie-Jose Croze | cert. 15

Perhaps Egoyan’s most personal work–this multi-layered examination of the legacy of genocide is a dramatic and intriguing hall of mirrors–in which history and memory–reality and fiction all prove unpredictable and fluid.


West Germany | 1988 | b&w & col | 96 mins | dir. Don Askarian–with Samuel Ovasapian–Onig Saadetian–Margarita Woskanjan

A portrait of the great Armenian composer who was traumatized into silence following the 1915 Genocide–Komitas is an episodic and poetic meditation that seeks to find a visual language–somewhere between Tarkovsky and Paradjanov–to convey the suffering of an entire people.


Armenia | 2004 | b&w | 99 mins | dir. by Tigran Xmalian

In Xmalian’s latest lyrical feature–an odd young couple – a nurse and a street musician – meet first as the witnesses of accident. Troubles pursue them and they decide to challenge fate in an extraordinary way – by giving birth to a new God. Dialogue-free–the film is threaded through with the music of Prokofiev.

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