BY CATHERINE YESAYAN
I enjoy the gratification that comes from watching movies at film festivals. They open up new windows and allow us to see new perspectives. This proved true again last week at the 14th annual Arpa International Film Festival at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Each year I attend the festival and try to watch as many films as possible. And each year, there are at least one or two standout films.
Last year, as a retrospective, Arpa screened the newly restored version of “Namus,” a film produced in 1926 by the iconic filmmaker Hamo Beknazarian. “Namus” is an adaptation from a play with the same title written by the Armenian playwright Alexander Shirvanzadeh. I remember hearing about “Namus” and “Pepo” while growing up – two films by the same filmmaker, but I had never had an opportunity to see the films. Thanks to Arpa film festival I finally had the opportunity to watch the film which left an indelible mark on me just as it had dazzled my mother when she first saw it 80 years ago as a young girl in Tabriz. I was marveled by the cinematography techniques used during those early years of filmmaking and I enjoyed watching the lifestyle of the era. Like when they showed a couple getting married at a church during the night and then afterward the procession from the church to the restaurant by lit torches. And of course the dancing at the restaurant, just melted me.
Besides “Namus,” the films that I’ve often enjoyed have been documentaries or short films. This year, however, there was an exception once again. Among my favorites was a feature film “Three Veils” written and directed by the Arab American filmmaker, Rolla Selbak. The film was very well executed and portrayed the inner struggles of three Middle Eastern women living in the U.S. It won the Best Feature Film Award at the Festival.
Among other films that impacted me last week at the festival were three documentaries, the first one was: The Last Tightrope Dancer in Armenia. The title says it all. This documentary is about two of the most celebrated master tightrope acrobats, that in their heydays were treated like kings, but today they don’t even have enough money to put gasoline in their car. They used archived film strips from the past and followed their lives in more recent years. It was a phenomenal movie. It depicted the sad reality of our homeland. I watched it with wet eyes.
Children of War: The title of this documentary also says what the movie is all about. It depicts war-torn Uganda, where boys are abducted from their homes and their schools and are forced to become soldiers and fight. The documentary follows a group of former child soldiers that have escaped and have returned to their homes, only to fight with the demons of their memories. It is a powerful movie. Following the film screening I asked Bryan Single, the producer and the director, about the years and money he had put into this extraordinary documentary. Single, in his late 30’s, had dedicated 6 years to bring this movie to life. I was in awe, inspired by the whole process of making the film, and how a young man could put so much heart into a project with a minimal source of income. The movie won the Humanitarian Award of the Festival.
The last of my favorites was a documentary about an American woman, Marion Stoddart, who in 1965 headed a group from her hometown to clean up the Nashua river in Massachusetts. It is a tale of an extraordinary woman who dedicated her life by transforming herself from a housewife into a staunch advocate for the environment. The movie chronicles her work, her life and her family by using archived interviews with government officials, combining the point of view of her children and her husband into one perspective. MARION STODDART: THE WORK OF 1000 was another extraordinary movie. I was so inspired by the movie. The director of the movie, Susan Edwards won the AT&T Award of Environmental Conservation and Stewardship of the festival.
I salute the organizers of ARPA FILM FESTIVAL that enhances our communities cultural values and strives to bridge gaps between different cultures by giving us the opportunity to witness new horizons and point of views. We need to support this important endeavor.
Catherine Yesayan is a contributor to Asbarez. You may reach her at [email protected] or read her stories on her blog.