Filmmaker Eric Nazarian’s new film “Bolis” will have its North American premiere at the Arpa International Film Festival. The film will screen on Saturday, September 24 at 6 p.m. at the Egyptian Theater.
The film entirely shot in Turkey, focuses on Armenak, who is a successful oud player and travels to Istanbul for the first time for an important musical event. His feelings toward the city, which his Armenian grandfather fled at the tip of the sword in 1915, are very complex. Armenak arrives full of prejudice, expecting to hate the place, but instead finds it very familiar. The decision comes naturally to him to search for his grandfather’s old musical instrument shop with only an old photo and a street name. Is it destiny or coincidence that leads him to his destination?
“Bolis” had its world premiere at the European Capital of Cultures festival in Istanbul in 2010
In April, Asbarez’s Georges Adourian sat down with Nazarian to discuss the film and his experience in Istanbul.
GEORGES ADOURIAN: What is the European Capital of Cultures Istanbul 2010?
ERIC NAZARIAN: From what I’ve learned, the idea of the European Capital of Culture was envisioned by the great Greek actress Melina Mercouri. She was the Minister of Culture of Greece during the 80s and felt that every year a city should be designated as a “capital of culture” for one year. It’s such a great idea for cross-cultural literacy. Over the years several cities have joined the ranks including Athens, Madrid, Stockholm, Lisbon, among others. In 2010, three cities were selected as capitals of culture: Essen, Pecs and Istanbul.
G.A.: How did your involvement with the “Do Not Forget Me Istanbul” happen?
E.N.: My friend Cigdem Mater introduced the project to me. Huseyin Karabey the producer invited me to represent the Armenian story in the omnibus composed of short films about Istanbul by filmmakers from Greece, Serbia, Bosnia and Palestine. A few years ago, I wrote a feature called “Bolis” about a Diaspora Armenian who journeys to Istanbul to find his grandfather’s shop that was destroyed during the genocide. Since the theme of the project was not forgetting the past cultures that contributed to Istanbul, I felt a shorter version of my feature would fit thematically so I compressed my feature into a short. As long as I could make the film I saw in my head with no interference creatively, I was ready to embark on this journey. Shooting “Bolis” was a good experience and an interesting challenge to try and squeeze as much of the city’s diverse energy, music and landscapes into my piece. Istanbul is a complex city full of so much history. The city is like a massive onion. No matter how much you peel, you never quite get to the core. Every day I was peeling a new layer, discovering something new from the past and trying to capture it through images. I learned a lot about the history of Istanbul from Petros Markaris, our wonderful script godfather and veteran screenwriter who was born in Polis (the Greek name for Istanbul) to an Armenian father and a Greek mother.
G.A.: Your film is called “Bolis.” What is it about?
E.N.: As the lead character Armenak says in the film, “Armenians call Istanbul Bolis.” The story follows an Armenian oud player from the Diaspora who returns to Bolis to participate in an oud festival. During his preparation for his performance he goes to Kadikoy, on the Anatolian side of the city, with a turn-of-the-century photograph of his grandfather, also named Armenak, who had an oud shop on a street that is written on the back of the photo. Along the way he meets a Turkish widow who happens to live in the same building that used to be the site of his grandfather’s oud shop. During their journey, the story of Armenak’s family is revealed during and in the aftermath of the genocide. The character of a Diaspora Armenian, portrayed from the inside out, has not been put on the screen in Turkey before. I tried to portray all the characters with as much humanity as possible. I am grateful to my very dear friend Vahe Berberian who is an incredible inspiration as a human being and artist. Vahe really inspired me with his passion for music and the oud.
G.A.: How was it to work and shoot in Turkey?
E.N.: It was great working with my wonderful actors Jacky Nercessian and Serra Yilmaz. They really brought my characters to life with a lot of passion and endearment. Since I was shooting in Istanbul for the first time, I prepared as much as I could beforehand, leaving little to chance since we had a short window to shoot in a lot of locations. The vibe with the crew was great on set. We shot the film very quickly, zigzagging across Istanbul and shooting in several locations from the Sisli Armenian Gregorian cemetery to an old turn-of-the-century Greek building in Kadikoy to the shores of the Bosphorus. I wanted the film to be an intimate and panoramic vision of Istanbul seen through the eyes of a Diaspora Armenian returning to the land of his roots.
G.A.: What kind of feelings did you have when you first visited Istanbul—Bolis?
E.N.: My impressions in the beginning were very complex, ambivalent and nostalgic. I grew up with the images of “Old Bolis” in my mind; the Bolis of Ara Guler, Siamanto, Daniel Varoujan, Orhan Pamuk and Udi Hrant. I wanted to go with an open mind yet I was haunted by the demons of the genocide. The spirit of Hrant Dink was my traveling companion. He truly is the patron saint of reconciliation between Armenians and Turks. The moment I docked in Istanbul I will never forget. All these images of Hrant Dink, Komitas, Zabel Yesayan, Krikor Zohrab and all the stories of the arrests and deportations on April 24, 1915 started fluttering in my mind. At the same time, I wanted to experience Istanbul for what it is today and not look at it only through the filter of April 24. The people I met and the friends I worked with made my experience memorable. I respect the Bolsa-hye heritage and what they have contributed over the centuries in culture, art, architecture and language, among so many things. I also heard a lot of stories from people I met along the way. “My grandmother was Ermeni…my brother’s doctor was Ermeni…my teacher Hakop effendi was Ermeni…” I encountered a few die-hard System of A Down fans which was cool. I hope this little film will be an ode to Armenian and Turkish everyday people who find a common bond over a simple cup of coffee and a story. I want to make films about hope for a real change between individuals who discover connections they never expect to find. I put in one of my favorite songs “Sari Sirun Yar” that my grandmother used to sing for me as a child.
G.A.: Is there any mention of the Genocide in your film?
E.N.: Yes. Armenak’s character talks about the story of his family from Aintab and Arabkir during the genocide. It was a condition of my participation that I will speak about the genocide. It’s important for audiences to understand that the vast majority of the Western Armenian Diaspora exists worldwide because of the genocide. Hrant Dink said something to the extent that people need to learn the truth and to be able to look into their conscience in coming to terms with what happened in 1915. Armenians carry the souls of our ancestors with us wherever we go, especially if we go to Istanbul, the ground-zero of April 24. What’s important for me as a filmmaker is to make “Bolis” a human story about a Turk and an Armenian discovering an emotional connection through the act of storytelling and facing our past openly and sincerely.
G.A.: When and in what context your film “Bolis” will be screened for the first time?
E.N.: We are waiting for news from the festivals. The films screened in Istanbul in April. My friends called me to say that the audience was moved.
G.A.: Do you see anything shining on the horizon for you?
E.N.: I am working on a few projects, including my film Music for Strangers and the feature version of Bolis.