Hollywood’s Armenian ‘Uncle Rafael’ Goes to Boston

A scene from "My Uncle Rafael"

HOLLYWOOD—Barely out of the womb, buzz has already begun for the independent comedy “My Uncle Rafael,” and on April 20, the film will be officially unveiled at the Boston International Film Festival. Directed by Marc Fusco, a protégé and former assistant to Steven Spielberg, the film is the first American comedy in history to feature an Armenian character in the lead role–with an Armenian backdrop.

Fresh from the editing room, “My Uncle Rafael” is the creation of the renowned Armenian comedic actor Vahik Pirhamzei. Similar to Tyler Perry’s journey with Madea, Vahik’s characters started on stage and leaped onto the big screen after becoming a hit theatrical franchise. Also similar to Perry, Vahik wrote, directed and starred in his stage comedies that focused on family life in a specific culture—in this case Armenian.

Film's creator actor Vahik Pirhamzei as "Uncle Rafael"

“When Uncle Rafael grew to become the favorite character with Armenian audiences in all of my plays,” Pirhamzei explains, “I realized he could naturally step onto a movie screen and have the same effect—in the right story, of course.”

So when Vahik teamed up with Hollywood screenwriter Scott Yagemann (“187”), who in-turn introduced him to director Fusco—the rest is movie history. Their story: An old Armenian uncle (played by Pirhamzei) is cast in a reality show and has one week to save a dysfunctional American family from falling apart.

Surrounding the Armenian with well-known studio comedy players, Fusco and producer Michael Garrity cast John Michael Higgins (“Yes Man”), Missi Pyle (“Charlie & the Chocolate Factory”), Anthony Clark (“Yes, Dear”), Rachel Blanchard (“Clueless”) and Joe Lo Truglio (“Paul”) to round out the ensemble. Working double-duty, Vahik can also be seen playing Rafael’s fast-talking son Hamo, along with Armenian-American actress Anahid Avanesian, who plays Hamo’s wife, Linda.

“My Uncle Rafael” is playing at the AMC Loews Boston Common 19 on April 20, 2011 at 6 p.m. Tickets are available at Fandango or Bifilmfestival.com. For more information, visit here.

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